Approximately 1,000 University of Wisconsin-Madison students marched across campus Thursday to condemn the university’s response to a racist video that circulated social media earlier this week.
Thursday’s rally was the second demonstration in two days from The Blk Pwr Coalition, a student group formed as UW-Madison faced widespread backlash from its response to the racist video. The video depicts a white student — identified as Audrey Godlewski — saying racial slurs and violent remarks toward Black people.
“We decided that we all really needed to band together to support each other,” said Elaine, a member of The Blk Pwr Coalition. “This is so much bigger than that one video, this is a demonstration of the feelings of all black students on this campus, our constant experiences with racism and bigotry.”
During a sit-in protest of more than 200 students on Wednesday, The Blk Pwr Coalition outlined a set of nine demands for Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and requested a response within 24 hours. Students demanded the university provide more resources for Black students and expel Audrey Godlewski, the UW sophomore recorded saying racial slurs, among other points.
The rally began at 3 p.m. Thursday as hundreds of protesters dressed in black gathered at the bottom of Bascom Hill. Organizers delivered brief remarks at the start, encouraging protesters to not engage with counter protesters, remain peaceful and minimize interactions with the police or press.
“We are severely disappointed [in Chancellor Mnookin’s response],” one organizer said. “She called our demands threats, and there was no threat given.”
As students marched down University Avenue, organizers led chants and songs. Police cars were at the front and rear of the crowd, which blocked motor vehicle traffic.
Marc Lovicott, executive director of communications for the UW Police Department, told The Daily Cardinal on Wednesday that police presence is common protocol for any student demonstration.
Elaine said the goal of the protest was to “take up space.”
“We've been having ongoing conversations and nothing has changed,” explained Steph, an organizer for The Blk Pwr Coalition. “We're really hoping that [the protest] is going to be the first step in making a change on this campus for years and years.”
Chancellor Mnookin responds to student demands
During Wednesday’s demonstration at Bascom Hall, protesters gave Mnookin 24 hours to respond to their list of demands. Two minutes after the 24-hour period passed, The Blk Pwr Coalition posted the announcement of today’s demonstration on Instagram.
Approximately a half hour before the outlined 24-hour response period, Mnookin relayed the university’s response to the protesters’ demands. In her letter, she stressed this was an “initial response” and hoped to have an “ongoing dialogue” with affected students and student groups.
Mnookin asked The Blk Pwr Coalition to identify a point of contact for a future meeting between university officials and student leaders from the coalition.
"We are committed to continue engaging and collaborating with you in good faith to address your concerns,” Mnookin wrote.
However, Mnookin’s statement all but denied The Blk Pwr Coalition’s first demand issued yesterday, which asked the university to expel Godlewski for her racist comments recorded on video. UW officials are unable to expel Godlewski due to legal and UW System policy constraints, according to multiple UW officials and a legal studies professor.
“I know that is not what you want to hear, but we are also bound to obey the law,” Mnookin wrote.
Additionally, Mnookin addressed concerns around academic flexibility during final exam season.
“If you need flexibility in your coursework or in relation to upcoming exams, your first stop should be your instructors,” Mnookin said, directing students to the Dean of Students office and department chairs for further concerns.
Organizers were less than pleased with her response.
“We asked that all the organizers and participants in this be given accommodations and extensions on our finals,” said Grace, another organizer for The Blk Pwr Collective. “There is absolutely no reason that we have to take on being activists on top of being students.”
“It's just not fair,” Grace added.
Mnookin’s statement directed affected students to University Health Services for mental health support and noted eight mental health providers at UHS have specific experience working with people of color.
Students at Thursday’s rally felt UW-Madison should provide more tangible resources to Black students and organizations to meet their demands.
Yet, students also chose to focus on joy in their messaging. During the middle of Thursday’s march, demonstrators paused at the intersection of University Avenue and Park Street to play upbeat music and dance.
“Today is about joy,” a protester said during the rally. “Yesterday was a lot of hard feelings — a lot of stuff that had to be said. But today is about celebrating us as the Black people on this campus and taking up some space.”
Editor's note: The Daily Cardinal is not publishing full names of students who spoke during the demonstration to protect the safety of those involved. All quotes used are accurate in their entirety.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.
Gabriella Hartlaub is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state politics and life & style reporting.
Anna Kleiber is a state news reporter for The Daily Cardinal.