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Sunday, June 23, 2024

UW-Madison professor strives to improve academic racial disparities

University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings goes beyond the classroom in her quest to diminish racial disparities on and off campus.

Furthering diversity and improving the imbalance of academic performance among minorities and “white matron kids” on campus are issues crucial to Ladson-Billings, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate education courses in the school of education at UW-Madison.

Ladson-Billings said she believes the university needs to emphasize student retention rather than recruitment and cited the lack of diverse entertainment offered on and around campus as a possible reason for minority students feeling excluded from the university community.

“When I’m driving through campus on Fridays or Saturday nights and see students lined up outside of bars, it is rare that I see a student of color in that line,” Ladson-Billings said. “Why? Because actually the research shows us that black kids in particular are not really heavy drinkers. So if what the campus offers for socializing is ‘let’s go get drunk,’ they’re left out.”

She said one way to avoid losing students is by “[staying] current with what they’re engaged in.”

As a way to remain relevant, Ladson-Billings will host the fourth “Getting Real” series, a free semester-long lecture series on the educational theories behind the hip-hop movement, beginning Feb. 17.

“You would probably have to live under a rock if you didn’t understand that hip-hop is kind of a driving course of youth culture right now and not just black youth culture,” Ladson-Billings explained. “I’ve traveled the world, and I see hip-hop everywhere.”

The lecture series will focus on the role of the hip-hop industry and feature various prominent guest speakers, including songwriter Jack Knight, who has written for artists like Diddy, Monifah and Jennifer Lopez, Ladson-Billings added.

“It is paired with a course I’m teaching called ‘Pedagogical Flow: Hip-Hop in the K-12 classroom,’” Ladson-Billings said. “I have a variety of students from across campus who are now taking the class with me.”

Ladson-Billings said she is hopeful for the future of diversity on campus and looks forward to working with a newly hired superintendent who “wants to do whatever she can to improve the performance of African American students.”

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