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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Complexities of diversity require campus dialogue

As the MultiCultural Student Coalition, we felt compelled to respond to Andrew Carpenter's piece ""Race Deserves No Place in University Admissions."" Carpenter states in his article, ""by focusing on the color of their skin rather than just their achievements, the University administration implants the idea that there might be something different about minority students: they might not be as smart.""

While we agree with Carpenter's notion that, ""We need to show that we believe race has nothing to do with a student's potential,"" we also need to understand there are multiple components of diversity that extend beyond race as defined by color. Our working definition of ""diversity"" is formulated under a broader understanding and is inclusive of: race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, gender, age, ability, international, and socio-economic status, in addition to variety in thought processes. Encompassing the above characteristics, we also agree all students should have access to equal education in their preparation for and throughout college; although we acknowledge this right, it is not reality. There have been numerous reactions to Carpenter's editorial. We, too, were impacted by the assumptions and calls to action. We now aim to provide a sense of justice to all students, faculty, staff and administration on campus by presenting factual responses to misrepresented university policies, individualistic opinions about campus climate, and the lack of ownership of white privilege.

The University's policy on race is defined by Chapter 36.12 of the Wisconsin Statutes, stating that, ""no student may be denied admission to, participation in or the benefits of, or discriminated against in any service, program, course or facility of the UW System because of the student's race..."". In addition, race cannot be an overriding factor for school admissions programs, as was determined by the 2003 Supreme Court decision. ""A student's race is never, on its own, a deciding factor,"" says former Provost Patrick Farrell, and current professor in the School of Engineering. Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin- Madison application explicitly states that it is optional to check the race box.

The University does acknowledge that Plan 2008, a continuation of the Madison Plan and Design for Diversity, was not successful. Reassessments have led to the implementation of the Inclusive Excellence framework, which is ""the idea is that excellence should be measured by how well campus systems, structures, and processes meet the needs of all institutional citizens, regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, or other characteristics,"" says Dr. Damon Williams, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate.

Distortions about the history of education, as it pertains to majority and minority groups, is explicitly seen in articles such as the one printed in the Badger Herald. In it Jaimie Chapman states, ""maybe minority students don't really care about the reason for their admission so long as they get admitted."" We feel it is brash to make assumptions regarding groups that one does not identify with, underrepresented or not, as it omits the histories of underrepresented groups. Its absence is perpetuated within our educational framework and policies, which widens the educational achievement gap. Further, the operational system in which these students are expected to excel has not changed to reflect the growing diversity. Thus, students are forced to function within a biased educational environment. This is one of the fundamental building blocks of white privilege.

In publishing his opinion, Carpenter failed to acknowledge his own privilege and the benefits that he receives on a daily basis. ""White privilege refers to the concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society."" In Carpenter not acknowledging this privilege, he devalues all claims made in his article. He exercises his privilege to choose to speak and be addressed as an individual, rather than the representative of a group. This perpetuates an ""us versus them"" dichotomy. Such a dichotomy allows members of the dominant group to lie as singular members of their community, while members of underrepresented groups are viewed as a collective.

It is a dangerous declaration to assume students practice ""colorblindness"" and believe it is possible. Efforts to achieve ""colorblindness"" undermines the celebratory qualities of being a person of a given group, while simultaneously depriving that person of being wholly his/herself. It is hypocritical to state that students are ""actively seeking out and love [to] interact with"" new and diverse groups of people, while they are also ""unsettled with the idea of minority students sitting next to them in lecture..."" Students cannot be conscientiously turning a blind eye to race, if they are in fact unnerved by the factors Carpenter correlations with race. Although the intention of ""colorblindness"" is to show how color is not as important as other characteristics, this mind-frame strips minority students of a part of their cultural identities.

As the MultiCultural Student Coalition, we recognize there are failures in the educational system. We also know there are efforts being made to address diversity disparities on campus and to provide tangible solutions. Focusing the discussion of diversity around Inclusive Excellence, rather than ""colorblindness"", is a more productive discourse on how to ensure all students have an equally successful and satisfying experience here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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This guest column was written by Andreall Moore, Antonio Garcia, Bekah Blocker, Danielle Harris, Kerry McNellis and Lena Marx of the MultiCultural Student Coalition. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to 

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