Editorial Board’s spring retrospective

Sexual assault climate 

Far too often this year, “sexual assault” appeared in the body of an email in our respective Wiscmail inboxes. Regardless of upcoming improvements by the university to the Tonight program and the work of organizations like PAVE and UHS, sexual assault remains one of the most serious issues our campus faces today.

 More than one in four female students experience sexual assault while pursuing their education here at UW-Madison, with at least 26.1 percent more going unreported, according to the Association of American Universities Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault Climate Survey—and the statistics are disproportionately higher for LGBT students. 

Also according to the survey, perpetrators were overwhelmingly identified as fellow students who are male, often a friend or acquaintance. Both administration and students alike are responsible for preventing sexual assault. However, at a certain point, it is not the responsibility of policy or the university, but the responsibility of our community as a whole. 

No one should live in fear while receiving their education, and creating a safe campus starts with all of us.

 If you see something, say something. Do not be a bystander. 

Political engagement in Madison

Wisconsinites and out-of-state student voters alike helped make the April primary one of the most successful elections in recent memory.

According to the state Government Accountability Board, 47.5 percent of eligible voters participated in last month’s primary. That is the nation’s second-highest turnout thus far, behind only early-season New Hampshire.

Besides the presidential race, a number of important state and local elections were also on the ballot, making the high voter turnout all the more significant. Those races have a much more direct effect on community and statewide issues than a national primary.

For Wisconsin voters, it will be important to keep this momentum through November, when 2016’s wild presidential campaign and another round of important state elections are decided. 

We have seen the power of political engagement firsthand on this campus, through protests, rallies and more. But the most direct form of political advocacy starts at the ballot box.

LGBT bathrooms

In the wake of a series of controversial “religious freedom” laws and “bathroom bills” being debated and passed elsewhere in the nation, most notably in North Carolina, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin stood up against LGBT discrimination and banned nonessential travel by county and city employees to states with such laws. Parisi also penned a letter to Gov. Scott Walker, asking him not to sign any similar bills in Wisconsin.

These laws require people to use restrooms according to their gender assigned at birth and forbid municipalities from providing new legal protections for people who identify as gay, lesbian and transgender. They are oppressive to the LGBT community and are most harmful to transgender people. Local leaders’ actions in support of LGBT individuals are commendable and should serve as examples for the rest of the state to follow in the face of similar bills being proposed in Wisconsin. 

Cultural competency 

This past semester has seen an outpouring of students past and present sharing their experiences of hate and discrimination on campus, deemed #TheRealUW.

Amid the stories of bias and advocacy for change, Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced—amid other objectives—the start of a cultural competency pilot program to begin in the coming fall semester. 

The program—crafted this semester through the driving force of Associated Students of Madison intern Katrina Morrison—will begin with freshman and transfer students, specifically targeting those living in residence halls. 

Dean of Students Lori Berquam said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal that there is no one best approach out there with cultural competency and that this program won’t be the be-all, end-all, but will be part of overall university efforts.

While the conversation on race should not and cannot end here, the implementation of this program is a good start and a strong jump-start to further policy-based action on UW’s campus.

Political protesting on campus

The tradition of student activism at UW-Madison has carried through this year, with protest culture remaining strong and vibrant: Hundreds of students participated in a recent walk-out, and #TheRealUW has garnered national attention through social media.

While university rhetoric continues to push for more discussion of racial climate on campus, undergraduate student groups such as BlackOut as well as graduate students—a group of whom met with Chancellor Rebecca Blank recently to state three demands—are calling for action, not more conversation.

Moving toward more than just talk requires student participation in creation of policy. Students have been integral in drafting the cultural competency program pilot, and even those new to campus have gotten more involved—a freshman drafted a mental health proposal this year. 

However, in order to encourage significant student involvement in policy, administration needs to do more than just assure students their policy contributions will be considered. 

Students should be compensated for their efforts, because although their voices are starting to be heard, they are not yet valued.

The Tonight program, revisited

Early this year, the Association of American Universities Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault Climate Survey evidenced some staggering statistics of sexual assault on UW-Madison’s campus. Concern sparked by the survey results brought many forums, discussions and promises of change to campus. 

Although there was an uprising of concern that came along with this survey, no concrete changes were seen on campus. Recently, however, there has been a promise of change to the Tonight program. 

Originally started in 2012, many students and faculty have felt that the current version is outdated for today’s climate. This change promises to become more conscious of students and be more inclusive overall. This can be seen as a first step to try to combat rape culture and improve the sexual assault climate on campus.

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