Campus News

KKK study group tells university to focus on struggles of current underrepresented students

Associated Students of Madison host distinguished campus organizations to talk about diversity on campus. 

Associated Students of Madison host distinguished campus organizations to talk about diversity on campus. 

Image By: Jake Scubish

After months of speculation, a UW-Madison study group recommended that campus confront its past ties to the Klu Klux Klan by addressing struggles of current underrepresented students.

The group did not issue a recommendation on whether to rename the Fredric March Play Circle and Porter Butts Gallery at the Union — both named after members of the 1920’s “Klu Klux Klan” student group. The study group’s leaders stressed that any discussion of renaming facilities should follow substantial institutional changes to UW rather than precede it.

“The thought of the committee was, ‘What is most important? The name of the building or what is going on inside the building?’ And to try to create an inclusive environment and climate,” said the group’s co-chair, Professors Floyd Rose.

They realized, said co-chair Professor Stephen Kantrowitz, having UW-Madison buildings named for KKK group members was a symptom, not a cause, of the era’s pervasive culture of bigotry and lasting effects today.

The group gave Chancellor Rebecca Blank specific recommendations:

  1. Fund a campus history project to recover the histories of marginalized campus members who experienced and resisted exclusion to help the university recognize and grapple with its past
  1. Further commit significant resources to campus divisions, programs and policies that benefit underrepresented students. Specifically, they recommended funding faculty hires in Afro-American, Native American, Chican@ and Latin@ and Asian-American studies departments. The group also underscored the Campus Climate Survey Task Force’s recommendations and advised the chancellor to adequately fund thoughtful mechanisms to recruit and maintain students and faculty of color, as well as committing funding to the Advanced Opportunity Fellows program.

When the group began to look at UW-Madison’s history in the 1920s they could not find records from people who actually experienced intolerance, according to Rose. It was hard for the group to create a complete storyline without voices from that side of the situation, he added.

After committing “significant university resources” to uncovering and documenting these stories, the findings will occupy a prominent place on campus — perhaps as an interactive experience in Memorial Union, Blank said. She added the project will take years but hopefully work will begin this summer or fall.

To address their second recommendation, Blank added that the university will fund a proposal to fund four new professors jointly appointed across the Ethnic Studies departments and another department. She added that over the past few years, UW-Madison has already increased AOF funding by $500,000 per year and instituted programs like Bucky’s Tuition Promise to expand access to the university.

Blank announced the ad-hoc task force last August in the wake of a deadly, racially charged protest that broke out in Charlottesville, North Carolina. She charged them to research the history of UW-Madison student organizations previously affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and then provide recommendations for how to respond.

“We also need to ensure that how we acknowledge this history reflects our institutional values of respect and inclusion for all people,” Blank said in her initial statement.

Originally, the group was supposed to give recommendations by Dec.1, 2017. But that deadline was “unrealistic in retrospect,” according to UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone.

“I know there are some unanswered questions about how we deal with the naming issue,” Blank said. “I’m sure there will be an ongoing conversation about that and we're certainly going to engage with our campus partners and talk about that. But the first thing we want to do is move forward with this public history project and some of these other initiatives.”

UPDATE: This story was updated on Apr.19, 2018 at 4:00 p.m.

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