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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UW-Madison students protest outside chancellor’s office, march on campus as backlash over racist video grows

Hundreds of students met at the Red Gym at 9 a.m. Wednesday and marched to Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin’s office at Bascom Hall, where they met with university officials and delivered demands to Mnookin.

Students are photographed silently protesting on Library Mall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on May 3, 2023. The students linked arms and protested in silence against UW-Madison's inaction after a video showing a white UW-Madison student using racial slurs circulated online.
Students are photographed silently protesting on Library Mall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on May 3, 2023. The students linked arms and protested in silence against UW-Madison's inaction after a video showing a white UW-Madison student using racial slurs circulated online.

Content warning: This story contains information about violent racist remarks and quotes containing profanity.

Hundreds of University of Wisconsin-Madison students held a sit-in demonstration Wednesday morning at Bascom Hall to protest the university’s response to a racist video that drew widespread condemnation from campus and community leaders.

The video — which has circulated on social media platforms since as early as Monday — depicts a white student saying racial slurs and violent remarks directed towards Black people. 

Multiple student organizations and community leaders have since identified the individual speaking in the video as Audrey Godlewski, a sophomore at UW-Madison. The Daily Cardinal can confirm these reports are accurate.

Wednesday’s protest was organized by The Blk Pwr Coalition, a student group that made its first known online statements late Tuesday.

The group met at the Red Gym at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Demonstrators were given tape to put over their mouths to symbolize “the way the university silences” students of color, according to an event organizer.

Students then marched silently up Bascom Hill towards the chancellor’s office in Bascom Hall. The group then sat outside Mnookin’s office, with university officials including Dean of Students Christina Olstad, Chief of Staff Argyle Wayde and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor present. 

“These are not just words,” one protester said about Godlewski’s comments in the video. “That was a fucking threat.” 

Students are photographed staging a silent sit-in protest inside Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on May 3, 2023. The protesters sat in silence while awaiting the arrival of Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin.

Students present demands to Mnookin, give 24-hour deadline

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Students asked to present Mnookin with a list of nine demands for university leaders upon arriving at Bascom Hall. Demands included but were not limited to: the “immediate expulsion” of Godlewski, a public apology from the university and academic accommodations for affected students.

Officials initially said Mnookin was not in the building, drawing scrutiny from students. However, Mnookin appeared at the protest around 11 a.m. to deliver a short speech and listen to student demands. 

“I know the strength you bring to us and I know the great support for the value of diversity and bringing different, multiple voices to this institution,” Mnookin said.


Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin accepts an envelope containing a list of demands regarding the University of Wisconsin-Madison's response to a video which shows a white UW-Madison student using racial slurs on May 3, 2023.

Students demanded a response from the university within 24 hours to prevent further, unspecified action.

“Given your demands, I hear your pain. Let me take [the demands], let me read them carefully, let me think about what we can do as next steps and I will be getting back to you,” Mnookin told the crowd.

“You have 24 hours from 9 a.m.,” two students responded.

Mnookin told students they “can make threats … ” before being interrupted by the protesters.

“You will hear something from me as soon as I can,” Mnookin said, but added that federal student privacy rules prevent the university from sharing updates about Godlewski. Mnookin then walked out of Bascom as students demanded her to stay. 

“These students deserve your time,” a student said. “They deserve your time more than any other meeting you’re going to.”

Mnookin was present at the protest for approximately 20 minutes.

Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin walks out of Bascom Hall after speaking to students during a sit-in protest on May 3, 2023. She was in the building for approximately 20 minutes.

University leaders respond to student demands, questions

Student members of The Blk Power Coalition presented a list of nine demands to University of Wisconsin-Madison leaders, including Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, on Wednesday, May 3.

LaVar Charleston, UW-Madison’s deputy vice chancellor for diversity & inclusion, arrived about an hour before Mnookin and joined officials answering questions from students.

Multiple protesters said the university views students of color as props or “statistics,” with another criticizing the university’s resources and funding for multicultural student organizations. 

During the protest, an unidentified person made a comment referring to the protesters as “ghetto.” Protesters widely criticized the comment throughout their remarks.

Protesters asked the officials for specifics on policies and actions for affected students.

“You all talk about more support for mental health, more space — these are things we’re working on,” Charleston said. “Money, helping to fund programs, policies, events and activities.”

UW-Madison’s Dean of Students Office received approximately 1,000 hate and bias reports as of Wednesday morning related to the incident, according to Olstad. She said the office is reaching out to students who asked to be contacted after submitting their report.

As students asked about consequences for Godlewski, Reesor pointed to federal student privacy laws and said the university cannot disclose individual information about students. “[Disclosure is] not a university decision,” she said.

Reesor pointed to increasing diversity statistics and said the university would “protect” Black students in response to student concerns. Her comments drew widespread disagreement from students, who questioned her measure of diversity and the university’s ability to protect students in the wake of numerous recent racial bias incidents targeted at Black students, such as racist gestures at sporting events.

She also offered university support to students missing class for the demonstration.

“This whole campus should be for you,” Reesor said.

Students are photographed marching and chanting on Lake Street near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on May 3, 2023. The protesters marched from Lake Street down University Avenue before returning on Johnson Street to East Campus Mall. They eventually returned to the Red Gym where the crowd dispersed.

A police officer was also present at the protest on the second floor of Bascom Hall. Marc Lovicott, executive director of communications for the UW Police Department, said police presence is common protocol for any student demonstration and not specific to this event in a statement to The Daily Cardinal.

Protesters were continuing to march on campus as of 12:15 p.m. Wednesday. At one point, protesters blocked traffic on University Avenue between Lake Street and Charter Street. Protesters then marched down Johnson Street from Charter Street to East Campus Mall before returning to the Red Gym.

Editor's note: The Daily Cardinal is not publishing names of students who spoke during the demonstration to protect the safety of those involved. All quotes used are accurate in their entirety.

College news editor Cormac LaLiberte contributed to this report. This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Zoe Kukla

Zoe Kukla is a Graphics Editor, state news reporter, and photographer for The Daily Cardinal. Follow her on Twitter at @ZoeKukla.

Gabriella Hartlaub

Gabriella Hartlaub is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. She also reports state politics and life & style stories. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.

Ian Wilder

Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.

Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.


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