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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Student Coalition aims to be voice for BIPOC

A new student activist organization, born out of a summer of protest in Madison, has brought new life to calls for racial justice and inclusion on the UW-Madison campus.

The UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition has initiated multiple student-led protests — including a Sept. 12 demonstration titled ‘Gordon’s Graveyard’ in response to the UW Smart Restart plan and an Oct. 9 ‘Get Cops Off Campus’ march with graduate worker union TAA Madison —  and introduced a set of demands that ask university leaders to expand their efforts in alliance with the BIPOC community on campus and in the greater Madison area. 

Respect, transparency, open involvement, amplifying BIPOC voices and collaboration are listed as the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition’s core values.

According to a statement on Twitter, the coalition was set in motion this year when “individual students who wanted to continue bringing the fight for Black liberation to the forefront of Madison priorities — both University and the greater Madison community” intended to “organize a march in solidarity with the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington.”

Their mission statement seeks “to build a unified community of BIPOC voices at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and create a collective platform that realizes and streamlines actionable initiatives that focus on structural changes to ensure members are heard, recognized and respected.” 

The ten demands established by the BIPOC Coalition have been an ongoing talking point between student activists on campus and the UW-Madison administration. A recent meeting between the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) and the UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD) provided an additional platform for the BIPOC Coalition to address the urgency of their demands and protests.

On Sept. 29, ASM passed a vote of no confidence in the UWPD and in the same meeting  expressed support of the BIPOC Coalition. Coalition leaders feel as if additional steps must still be taken to address issues with the university and UWPD. One of the demands they have championed is for the department to be defunded and eventually dissolved.

“There needs to be a change in UWPD in attitude,” says Tarah Stangler — a BIPOC Coalition founder and UW-Madison senior. “There were some conversations brought forth by ASM representatives that touched on how changes could damage the relationship between UWPD and the greater university. If there is an issue it has more to do with UWPD understanding that they are messing up and refusing to take responsibility for their actions and there can be consequences to their actions.”

“They have had a lot of conversations for the last three years about police reform and nothing has happened,” says Stangler. “I am really hoping that this does not damage the ability to have conversations but also recognizing we are all adults and we all act like adults.” 

Stangler also pointed out the lack of communication and recognition the BIPOC community has received from the UW Administration. The coalition does not feel as if it has been prioritized by the university.

“As of right now, the BIPOC coalition has not met with any university officials besides sitting in on meetings we were brought in by UWPD,” she says. “We will say that some of the reasons we have not met with the administration yet has to do with the way BIPOC is being shuffled through the system. We have made demands to have the meeting with [Chancellor] Becky being present, but we keep being told that we have to meet with [other administrators] from Student Life first.” 

Student leaders are disappointed with the lack of consideration they have received from university leaders.

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“This has been frustrating for us. We are the BIPOC Coalition and the voice of students of color on campus. We are trying to make sure that when we have the opportunity and decide to sit down with university officials that they understand that this meeting is not a one-off thing. There needs to be consistency with these meetings that can enact change,” says Stangler.

Despite these claims, Chancellor Rebecca Blank indicates that the university plans to work through communication disparities or disagreements in an effort to address BIPOC Coalition requests. 

“I have read their list of demands, I have talked with [BIPOC student leaders]. There are a number of them that we are working on,” Blank told student reporters. “Some of them non-starters and there’s other things that we are gonna try to do, and that’s the nature of the conversations that I hope we’re going to have as we work through whatever the disagreements are.”

According to Stangler, miscommunication and misleading conversations that directly address the treatment of BIPOC community members are not new patterns. Rather, she argues that the university’s desire is to push BIPOC demands aside. 

“In my understanding of how these conversations have gone, not even in the last few years, since the 60s and when the original [Black Student Strike] demands have been made. It feels like they [the UW-Madison administration] try to satiate BIPOC members by saying they will have meetings with them and we will do this but it keeps being pushed that we need to join certain committees and talk to this person to have a meeting,” she says.

“Time then runs out by the time the leaders graduate and they hope that there is not enough infrastructure for the new group not to pressure as hard as the last group,” she continued. “It feels that they do not necessarily care and [are] trying to present the image the university is accepting and inviting to BIPOC but in reality, do not do anything to ensure that.”

In the meantime, Stangler suggests that students pursue active involvement by showing support and raising awareness for the BIPOC community. She suggests listening and researching campus history — specifically its administration’s treatment of BIPOC students, faculty and Madison residents.

“The BIPOC coalition hears you and we may not all share the same identities, so we can not begin to imagine the burdens that come with your identity but we will fight for you and we will do what we can to ensure that you feel that you are welcomed and feel safe on this campus,” Stangler says. “We will continue to push the administration for you.”

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