Campus News

Our Wisconsin survey results show inclusivity progress, awareness

Our Wisconsin is a program from the Center for the First-Year Experience, part of the Division of Student Life.

Our Wisconsin is a program from the Center for the First-Year Experience, part of the Division of Student Life.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger and Cameron Lane-Flehinger

In a recent survey, students reported a UW-Madison inclusion program effectively increased awareness of and respect for diversity on campus among first-year students in residence halls.

Survey data revealed students who participated in the Our Wisconsin program — a three-hour workshop focused on respect for diversity, community connection, identifying bias and gaining appreciation for others’ experiences — were more aware of cultural differences on campus.

While just 1,000 students participated in the program when it piloted in fall 2016, the program has expanded to reach 4,332 students. Students also participated as facilitators and co-led the workshops with a staff or faculty member.

According to the survey, 71 percent of students reported feeling very or extremely responsible for helping members of their residence hall feel welcome on campus after participating in the program — a 22 percent increase from what students reported before taking the workshop.

Aaric Guerrero, the program’s inclusion education director, said the surveys were administered both before and after students participated in the workshop in order to identify the impact of the program.

Guerrero said the data prove the program has the potential to improve campus climate, especially for students of underrepresented populations.

“The intent is that the dialogue will make the campus climate feel not as isolating for many of our students with underrepresented identities,” Guerrero said. “Students coming from a number of different backgrounds just don’t feel like they belong or have a home here — this is a way to try to change that.”

The data also revealed the workshop encouraged students to be more likely to speak up when stereotypical comments were made about another person or group on campus.

According to the survey, while just 47 percent of respondents said they were very or extremely likely to speak up before taking the workshop, 62 percent reported feeling the same afterward.

Karissa Harenda, a UW-Madison junior, said she had a positive experience with the program despite being apprehensive prior to participating.

“I thought I would be learning things I had already learned before, but when it was over I found it very eye opening,” she said. “Having new students participate is beneficial, because we’ve all heard about diversity before, but some of us have never come face to face with it.”

Not all students agree, however.

UW-Madison sophomore Fiona Quinn said the activities in the program “felt below her” and taught her things that were “just too obvious.”

“It went for a really long time,” Quinn said. “It felt forced upon me, a little repetitive, boring and overwhelming.”

Although Quinn had a negative experience of the workshop, she said the program has potential if improvements are made.

“It’s good they’re doing it, but I just think it could be executed better,” Quinn said. “It just seems tailored to a younger crowd, and they could make it more age-appropriate and actually interesting.”

Guerrero said Our Wisconsin will use data from the survey to improve the program in the future, but he is satisfied with the outcome so far.

“I think if we are able to engage first-year students in some of these discussions and set the stage for what they’re going to experience over their time at UW-Madison, then they’ll walk out of here being able to engage in dialogue with those who are different from them,” Guerrero said.

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