UW-Madison student leaders reacted to the Spring 2021 Campus Climate Progress Report, which highlights diversity initiatives on campus.
The report, released on Feb. 24, covers campus initiatives towards inclusion and includes statistics, including an increase from 9.9% to 11.7% in the amount of underrepresented undergraduate students of color on campus and an increase from 18% to 25% of faculty of color at the university, both from 2011 to 2020.
UW-Madison also noted how the retention rate, which covers the amount of freshmen who returned for a second year, among underrepresented domestic students of color is the highest it has ever been at 95.9% and is above the retention rate for the entire student body which is at 95.2%.
The report discussed how the amount of underrepresented students of color among the UW-Madison freshman class in 2020 increased by 19.8 percent at 989 students compared to 825 students last year. While students of color make up 13.5% of the freshman class, some student leaders think there is more work that must be done.
“Reports like this kind of just seem arbitrary to me personally,” said Juliana Bennett, a UW-Madison junior and a co-founder of the UW-Madison Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Coalition. “If you’re really gonna do a climate report, then you also need to recognize where you’ve failed, where there is still room for improvement. This climate report fails to recognize all that BIPOC students have been pushing against this past year.”
Throughout the last two semesters, the BIPOC Coalition has advocated for initiatives including pass/fail grading systems, the payment of international students who telecommute and the Associated Students of Madison COVID-19 Student Relief Fund — clashing often with university administration.
One initiative that the report discusses is the Business Emerging Leaders Program through the Wisconsin School of Business, of which Bennett is a member.
“As a junior in college that has gone through three years of being in the program prior to UW and coming here, I can say that we haven’t really received support while at the UW,” Bennett said. “We had support coming in in the three years prior when we were high school students, but when we came to UW, it is clear that this program is really to use our faces and tokenize us.”
Another initiative that is mentioned in the report is the Diversity Forum 2020, which was controversial because white author Robin DiAngelo was paid $12,750 and Black author Austin Channing Brown was paid $7,500.
The report also mentions plans for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit, scheduled for March 11-12, 2021, which will feature virtual activities and tips that focus on caring for one’s mental health. Bennett was contacted in the planning of this event and likes the idea of having resources for students of color, but hopes for more consistent mental health resources.
“Where [are] the mental health resources for people of color?” Bennett said. “There’s only like three or so mental health providers specifically for people of color at this university, and they are so busy that they literally have to turn people away.”
UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone said the University recognizes and appreciates student organizations’ efforts but does not want to take credit for their work, as the report focuses on university-led initiatives.
“The new report reflects the recent emphasis, both on campus and around the country, on issues facing BIPOC communities,” McGlone said. “However, it’s important to note that most of the work highlighted in the report addresses multiple underrepresented communities and identities, including the LGBTQ+ community. ”
On Wednesday, UW-Madison announced their plans to utilize $20 million raised to support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts through the Raimey-Noland Campaign, named after the first known African American UW-Madison graduates, Mabel Raimey and William Noland.
Plans for the fund include the implementation of scholarships and programming — aimed to increase the diversity of the student body, faculty and staff — to help students achieve academic success and career readiness, foster an inclusive campus community and support research to address injustices and advance equity.
“Overall this past year has been a time of social justice reckoning, reckoning for underrepresented communities,” Bennett said. “Frankly, I think that if it didn’t make this report it is because the University didn’t do anything or doesn’t find it something to brag about. So much more could’ve been in this climate report if the University would just embrace BIPOC student demands.”