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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

UW-Madison faculty and staff demand end to racism on campus

More than 500 UW-Madison faculty, academic staff and graduate students have signed a letter released Thursday calling for an end to racist practices on campus.

The letter, titled “UWPD: No More Anti-Black Racism on Campus,” follows a Thursday incident in which the UW-Madison Police Department entered a classroom and removed a student, later arresting him outside the building in connection to 11 counts of graffiti challenging police violence and racism.

The letter says UW-Madison faculty and staff “denounce UWPD’s deplorable actions” and requests “immediate” accountability from campus administration, including Chancellor Rebecca Blank. It also asks for the student not to be expelled so he can graduate in May.

UW-Madison professor Johanna F. Almiron, whose Afro-American Studies class was disrupted when the student was removed, said in the letter that the university was more interested in protecting its status as a progressive campus than the students who are “actually fighting for social change.”

“The way UWPD officers entered my class was very aggressive, with bullet proof vests and guns visible,” Almiron said in the letter. “I cannot believe they humiliated and terrified my students. The fact that our classrooms are not respected as spaces of learning is absolutely appalling.”

The letter questioned whether the content of the graffiti served as rationale for the officers to use a public display of force. It concluded with two of the messages the student had allegedly written: “Racism is in the air, don’t breathe” and “White Supremacy is a disease.”

The UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association Executive Board also released a statement Friday condemning the UWPD’s handling of the incident.

The statement said the classroom intrusion and subsequent arrest sends a message that the university’s condemnation of other recent incidents of discrimination is “utterly devoid of substance,” and that campus officials will respond aggressively to victims of backlash against racial equity, rather than the perpetrators. It also said the UWPD has claimed the right to “blithely ignore educators in their own classrooms.”

Clean-up after the graffiti resulted in an approximate $4,000 cost, and the statement questioned how much of students’ tuition money was used in the six-month investigation preceding the arrest.

Additionally, the statement called out UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank as “complicit in the creation of a hostile living and learning environment for UW students of color,” saying that her tenure has contributed to a long history of inaction by the administration in the face of hate crimes.

Blank also released a response statement Friday saying she shares the frustration surrounding campus climate for students of color and is aware that the university has “a long way to go” regarding these issues. 

UPDATE April 15, 4:58 p.m.: This story has been updated to include information from the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants' Associated Executive Board concerning the incident. 

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