If State Street is the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison area, University Avenue is the vagus nerve, vital to life on campus. Classic campus spots lie streetside, or in the immediate vicinity. Bars, restaurants, you name it. In many ways, University Avenue is a happy place.
Yet, there was a dampening of spirits in the area Tuesday. A PhD student from China was attacked unprovoked by a group of assailants on June 14. The attack was brief, but the assailants left the victim bleeding out of his left ear. This was one of multiple incidents allegedly involving the same group in a similar area reported that night. The vagus nerve was pinched, and the campus community died a little, even if we didn’t all know it.
Establishing the idea that unprovoked attacks on people are unacceptable shouldn’t be controversial. However, it is important to dissect the university response to the incident. The victim and his friends felt the pain deep into the night while the rest of us remained oblivious, for hours and even days. This disconnect was the result of appalling communication from the university.
WiscAlerts are emergency communications sent out to the campus community in the face of danger. When a police officer was shot on State Street in 2021, we received a WiscAlert. Rightfully so. Yet, this incident, a group assault of a student, didn’t warrant an alert.
An email to the campus community following the attack outlined criteria for a WiscAlert. Considering the criteria, was this incident not a “significant dangerous situation” for other students? Multiple incidents allegedly stemmed from the same group of assailants. Textbook definition of a threatening situation. Further, in 2021, the police officer was shot in the 500 block of State Street, directly outside Mondays Bar and not too far from the location of this assault. Surely this latest incident can’t be considered out of bounds for an alert then.
If such a vile incident does not meet the bar for an alert, the criteria needs to be rethought. A campus without hard coded bounds is a blessing. However, the blurring of campus and city lines is no excuse for alerts not being issued. The duty to protect and serve does not end a few blocks down the road. Further, the severity of a situation should not hinge on the presence of weapons alone. There needs to be greater consistency in communication. The scope of what requires a WiscAlert should be objective and wide. I would rather get alerts in abundance of caution, than silence in the face of violence.
In addition, there was mention of another incident in the email. It was called a “random incident.” Contrary to the email, the victim sustained injuries. It was not a matter of the assailants just “throwing bananas.”
The group also allegedly attacked a man of Pakistani origin and two other victims of Chinese origin. These instances of battery were chalked off as “random attacks” in the email, with no mention of who victims were.
Students deserve every crumb of information they can get, in the interest of safety. Instead, all we got was a list of common sense precautions students should take. Minimizing victim experiences and slapping a list of precautions comes across as victim blaming. Statements from District 8 alder Juliana Bennett and the Members of Asian Communities decry the email. I couldn't agree more.
These incidents form part of a stark trend of recent violence against Asians. A student was spat at, while another had their phone knocked out of their hands in 2021. In 2020, a racist message was inscribed in chalk on State Street. Unprovoked and out of hate.
Simmering fear and anger of the Asian international student community has come to the fore. International students, often dehumanized as “cash cows,” pay the highest tuition fees at UW-Madison. In the face of budget cuts, they play a vital role in keeping the university afloat. Speaking in American terms, international students aren’t getting what they pay for. A safer campus is a safer investment for students.
But life is far more than returns on investment. International students come to Madison putting all their faith in the town. When my parents left me here, they hoped the community would watch over me in their absence. When you take the plunge and spend years thousands of miles from home, you’ve got no choice but to believe.
There is this idea that Madison is a safe, liberal haven. In fact, the first victim admitted thinking this way when choosing to study here. Regardless of whether the incidents are hate crimes, or if the assailants are Madisonians, Madison’s image has taken a hit. The reality isn’t as rosy as is often believed. The onus is on hosts to welcome guests warmly. Incidents like these hardly make for a warm welcome for international students. There is a need for community reflection.
Local students and non-students alike must ensure international students feel the warm Wisconsin welcome. The community also holds the key when it comes to tackling root causes of such incidents. Beyond community efforts, the greatest share of responsibility is on UW-Madison.
It is essential that students get the right environment to thrive in, academically and socially. They should not spend their years in fear of the outside. University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department (and even the Madison Police Department) must build trust in meaningful ways.
The university must offer clear communication and meaningful support. The administration has a responsibility to ensure that international students are not cast aside as minorities often are. It will be interesting to see how Chancellor-designate Jennifer Mnookin approaches future minority issues. The handling of this situation so far has only seen students lose faith in UWPD and the administration. It will take more than a few acts of reconciliation in response to this backlash. There must be consistent greater transparency and less sweeping under the rug.
The victim opened his social media post about the incident with the line “Tonight it’s me.” There have been victims before him. There were other victims that night. More victims than there should ever be.
There simply cannot be more.
Anupras is currently on the editorial board, and served as an opinion editor in 2020. He is a senior studying Computer Science and Journalism. Have you experienced hate or bias incidents in Madison? Do you think the university should take greater responsibility? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Anupras Mohapatra is a former opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal and currently serves on the Editorial Board. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Journalism.