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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Come as you are: UW increasingly works toward inclusivity

Personal biases aside, UW-Madison is objectively one of the best universities to attend. Whether it’s summertime on the Terrace, game days in the fall, or even when it’s -35 degrees outside in the winter, campus truly brings joy to thousands of students throughout the year. Although UW is generally a great environment and community to be a part of, it’s also time to face the truth that this may not be the case for every Badger.  

It is unfortunately the grim reality that UW may not feel welcoming for minority students, be it those within the LGBTQ+ community, students of color or those with other identities that offer a unique, and oftentimes more difficult, UW experience. Seeing “Make America White Again” stickers around campus results in fear and anger because an unsafe, exclusive space is created — as a student of color, it’s frankly unnerving. International students who identify as queer have spoken out about their intersectional experiences, climate surveys have recognized gaps in the treatment of trans students and the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center has faced a series of name and leadership changes in recent years. 

Although such events may seem scary for new students, it’s important for incoming Badgers to know that UW-Madison increasingly aims to become an environment that is as inclusive as possible and offers a variety of resources for minority students. From student organizations to University Health Services to the Red Gym, UW has certainly made efforts to ease the transition of those who feel marginalized on campus. 

There are thousands of student organizations that truly offer a sense of belonging, which may otherwise seem unattainable in today’s political environment. Organizations such as The Pride Society, India Students Association, Asian American Student Union, Melanin Speaking, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Black Voices and so many more allow for minority students to find a home within a campus of nearly 45,000 students. Not only do such communities act as pillars of support for students who share a similar identity, but the relationships and bonds that develop through student orgs last past our Badger days. 

Residence halls house identity-based learning communities, from Open House to the Multicultural Learning Community, with the intention of creating a safe and comfortable home for students. Travis Winger, who lived in Open House and is now the community’s programming assistant, discussed the importance of these pockets of UW for folks that don’t necessarily feel welcome in their hometowns or all campus spaces. 

“It's their first time that they've been able to be their authentic selves, and I think there is no better place to do that than surrounded by a bunch of people who know exactly what you are going through,” Winger said. 

UW has also implemented other measures in hopes of confirming and proactively supporting students’ identities, from distributing preferred pronoun buttons at UHS to forming inclusion committees under the Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison’s student government. Organizations such as Sex Out Loud, which offers sex-positive educational programming and activism, and Our Wisconsin, which provide diversity and inclusion trainings for all first-year students, utilize our passionate student body to make a peer-to-peer impact and encourage thinking outside of the boxes we have previously been shoved into. UHS also aims to aid all Badgers with whatever health and wellness concerns they may have by hiring health providers specializing in working with the LGBTQ+ and transgender and gender non-conforming students, students of color and those who are more comfortable speaking Mandarin. 

Furthermore, the Wisconsin Involvement Network’s caution, at times apologizing for failing to use students’ preferred names — which can provoke gender dysphoria — reaffirms the University’s commitment to inclusivity. And, while it is just a start, UW has also modified or marked nearly 60 campus restrooms as gender neutral. 

On the academic side of things, there are also extensive programs that aim to level the playing field for folks who may not be on par with their peers, due to situational circumstances or otherwise, when they arrive on campus. The Center for Educational Opportunity, McBurney Disability Resource Center, drop-in and targeted programs from Greater University Tutoring Service —affectionately known as GUTS — and the Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarship Programs are just a few initiatives working to do so. 

And, arguably most important, there is a home for nearly all historically underrepresented students: the Red Gym. Home to the GSCC, International Student Services, the Multicultural Student Center, the POSSE program and other administrative offices, the Red Gym is a sort of one-stop shop for everything inclusivity-related. (And, they even host some really cool events with lots of free food.)

Inclusive actions and spaces such as these, although minimal when looking at the big picture, are still necessary to celebrate in a climate where such policies may be far the from the norm on other campuses around the United States. Ultimately, whether you’re an engineering major from New York, a communications major from San Francisco or a B-schooler-to-be from Baraboo, there’s a place for you at our table of nearly 450,000 living alumni and folks working everyday to make you feel welcome here. So, welcome home, Badger. 

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