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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, February 23, 2024
A personalized license plate displaying a nod to the Wisconsin Idea, a philosophy embraced by the University of Wisconsin System, is spotted on a vehicle in Lot 34 on April 23, 2019. (Photo by Bryce Richter /UW-Madison)

Are we fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea?

One of the reasons I — and I am sure some of my peers — chose UW as a primetime undergraduate destination was due to the university’s commitment to the impacts of education outside of the classroom, lab, and discussion section. Our thriving student org population, rapidly evolving city surrounding campus, and seemingly never-ending opportunities to do research or join unique projects was more than enough to pull my bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed freshman self to Madison. 

These attributes are a partial reflection of the ‘Wisconsin Idea,’ a valued principle among the UW system that has been in existence since initially introduced by our school’s then-president, Charles Van Hise, in 1905. 

“I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state.”  This statement led to a greater relationship between UW and state government, and eventually a slew of initiatives, research and development, and statewide projects orchestrated by Badger students and faculty. 

UW students have provided lavender farms with market expertise, created language software to help students improve their communication skills outside of the classroom, taught healthcare providers across the state how to enhance their HIV treatment and prevention programs, and so much more

These projects hardly make a dent in the whopping heap of good things that UW has done for the state, but it can be easy to forget about these efforts when we find ourselves entrenched in the campus bubble. Classes speed up, orgs get hectic, and this commitment to the people of Wisconsin and beyond may become quieter and quieter. 

If you ask a student on campus about continuing concerns over PFAS contamination in Madison’s wells, resistance against welcoming F-35 fighter jets to Truax Field, who their state and local representatives are, or the like, they probably won’t have much to say. 

This isn’t to say that we don’t love Madison, but rather than we as a student body should pay a bit more attention to the city’s off-campus concerns and ordeals. We are an extremely-involved group of students, so we should take even further advantage of this. 

We live here — and we should act like it. We should take advantage of Madison’s culture beyond State Street, indulge in the local food and arts scenes, attend community meetings and stand up for what we believe in. We should become more to our ‘real adult’ neighbors than annoying drunk kids, and show that we are here to make our community a better place — regardless of if it only lasts for four years. 

We should care about Madison’s public school system, and defend the fight for racial equity and a minimization of in-school violence. We should make our voices heard when it comes to environmental threats or the gentrification plaguing State Street with franchises rather than quirky, locally-owned shops. 

We should continue the great work Badgers past and present have done for our prized Dairy State, and push it a step further. We should flock to the polls, pay attention to what is happening city-wide, and if we decide to leave to go on to other cities and states, leave behind a legacy worth being proud of that isn’t a resume or GPA. 

So let’s all take the Wisconsin Idea just a little bit more seriously, and continue to prove to our community what an asset Badgers can be. 

Sam is a senior studying journalism, with certificates in development economics, and environmental studies. Do you think that UW students should do more to fulfill the Wisconsin Idea? Send all comments to

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