This year, freshmen students will be offered the new Our Wisconsin inclusion education program intended to improve campus climate.
Joshua Moon Johnson, special assistant to the Vice Provost for Student Life, discussed the program at the Associated Students of Madison Student Council meeting Wednesday.
After an overwhelming increase of hate and bias incident reports last semester, faculty, students, ASM and other groups across campus came forward with their concerns about the university's campus climate.
From open meetings in February, a working group formed to create a proposal to send to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank to get funding for what would eventually become Our Wisconsin.
This new program invited 1,500 freshmen to student and faculty-led programming based on an open discussion format. Sessions will be held three times a night in the Southeast and Lakeshore neighborhoods, each with two student facilitators and one faculty facilitator.
Johnson addressed misconceptions about the program, highlighting the emphasis on dialogue.
“[We know] that new students here are going to interact with people different from themselves, and when they don't have the skill set to do so, it can cause conflict,” Johnson said. “So we give people the space to have these conversations.”
He added that he hopes people will ask questions about the program instead of making assumptions. Johnson stated that concerns about First Amendment infringement are unfounded, and he would much rather people “say whatever they want to say” in a thoughtful way than keep their thoughts to themselves.
Unlike AlcoholEdu and the Tonight program, residents are encouraged to attend but not required. Johnson said he hopes that after assessing the program's effectiveness they can secure funding for “some form” of this program that all 7,000 freshmen would participate in.
In an upcoming report, Johnson and his department will analyze the increase of hate and bias reports and campus climate issues. He said the university has increased its efforts to address these issues, including adding graduate and undergraduate students to Johnson's staff.
Johnson said his office’s goal is to increase peer-to-peer education among undergraduates.