College News

Union South’s declining traffic, Campus Climate survey prompts assessment by the Wisconsin Union

Image By: Katie Scheidt and Katie Scheidt

Since renovations to Memorial Union were completed last September, the Wisconsin Union is now shifting its energies toward assessing Union South in the hopes of finding solutions to its declining traffic, as well as improving inclusivity throughout UW-Madison’s unions.

Union South was renovated back in 2011 after the old union was demolished in 2009. With new features like the Sett and the Marquee, it saw a major uptick in student usage according to Nicholas Munce, a UW-Madison senior and vice president of internal relations for the Union Council.

“The group [of students] that came in 2012 and graduated in 2016 were coming into a brand new Union South,” Munce said. “And then that group graduated and every year since, we’ve been seeing less and less shine on the building. It’s not as new anymore.”

The Wisconsin Union conducted internal surveys which proved this point. According to Jacob Hahn, the Wisconsin Union’s director for the outdoor programs office and the lead on the assessment project, Union South’s traffic has declined by 10 percent every year for the past three years.

To put an end to this pattern, the Wisconsin Union created the assessment project, consisting of two major components: an evaluation of Union South’s traffic — led by Munce — and an inclusion study.

When asked why inclusion was a large focus of the overall assessment project, Hahn said the Wisconsin Union had received anecdotal reports of students feeling excluded or underrepresented within the union, which may contribute to the declining usage of Union South. The Campus Climate survey, released in November, was another motivating factor in studying inclusion in the unions.

“We looked at the results of [the Campus Climate survey] and said, as a community builder and community center on campus, ‘We can do something to help improve how these underrepresented and underserved student groups feel, who’re saying that the campus doesn’t feel as welcoming to them as they want it to be,” Hahn said.

The evaluation of the union’s traffic will include focus groups, composed of students who do and don’t use Union South frequently, that will meet in April. A campus-wide survey is slated to be released around finals week.

The inclusion study is similarly structured but has already begun. The Wisconsin Union brought together eight focus groups — five student groups and three faculty groups — a couple of weeks ago. Feedback from the groups will shape a survey that will be released to the student body on March 1.

Hahn says the Wisconsin Union is hoping to begin implementing changes soon, though they do not have a specific timeline at this point.

“If we get our data back from both of these studies in early summer, then we can turn around and begin to make some positive changes at the beginning of the next academic year,” Hahn said.

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