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Monday, September 25, 2023

UW-Madison student in racist video apologizes after remarks drew condemnation, protests from campus community

Audrey Godlewski, the UW-Madison student seen in a video released on May 1 saying racial slurs and violent remarks directed toward Black people, apologized to the campus community Monday night in a statement to The Daily Cardinal.

<p>Wisconsin Tuition Promise to cover the cost of low-income students at UW System campuses.&nbsp;</p>

Wisconsin Tuition Promise to cover the cost of low-income students at UW System campuses. 

Content warning: This story contains information about violent racist remarks.

Audrey Godlewski, the UW-Madison student seen saying racial slurs and violent remarks directed toward Black people in a video widely circulated on social media last month, apologized for her actions Monday evening.

In an email to The Daily Cardinal, Godlewski apologized for the “pain and anger” she caused to the campus community.

“To the University of Wisconsin–Madison student body, faculty and community, I sincerely apologize for the harmful actions and comments I made towards African American individuals,” Godlewski said. “My words were utterly disgusting and unacceptable, whether in public or private.”

Godlewski’s comments in the video drew immediate and widespread condemnation from students, community members and university officials. The incident sparked days of student-led protests led by the Blk Pwr Coalition, a new student group formed less than 24 hours after the university responded to the racist video. 

The Blk Pwr Coalition responded to Godlewski’s apology in an email to the Cardinal late Monday.

"Although The Coalition is glad that she recognizes the harm that she caused our community, we are disappointed that she didn’t directly apologize to us — the BLK PWR Coalition, and UW-Madison’s Black population,” the organization wrote. “In short, we are tired of people reflecting and learning from the trauma that they inflict upon us.”

During a sit-in protest outside Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin’s office in Bascom Hall, the Blk Pwr Coalition delivered a list of nine demands for university officials, including the expulsion of Godlewski. 


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Students record silent demonstrators' remarks outside of Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin's office in Bascom Hall. 

 

Physical demonstrations culminated in a second protest, where hundreds of UW-Madison students marched across campus to condemn the university's response to the video and call for university administration to take stronger action against hate speech.

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Both constitutional law experts and university officials have said on multiple occasions that the university cannot expel Godlewski due to legal precedents governing free speech. 

In a statement to the Cardinal last month, UW-Madison Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies Howard Schweber explained that given the available facts and Godlewski’s First Amendment rights, her comments did not exhibit “any basis for disciplinary action.” 

A statement UW-Madison published in May similarly said the school cannot restrict students and employees from posting to personal social media accounts, nor can they penalize such posts.

Furthermore, UW-Madison officials — including Deputy Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion LaVar Charleston, Dean of Students Christina Olstad and Chancellor Mnookin — maintain UW-Madison is constrained by federal student privacy laws that prevent the university from releasing any information about Godlewski. 

University officials have not confirmed whether Godlewski is the student in the racist video.

Students from the Blk Power Coalition met with Chancellor Mnookin, interim Provost Eric Wilcots, Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor and Deputy Vice Chancellor LaVar Charleston on Wednesday, May 10, according to Kelly Tyrell, UW-Madison director of media relations and strategic communications.

Details of the meeting were not shared with the Cardinal “out of respect for the student leaders,” Tyrrell said in a statement to the Cardinal following the meeting.


Drake_White-Bergey_Anti-Racism_Protest_050423_15.jpg
Protesters hold their fists in solidarity on May 4, 2023, during a demonstration against the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s response to a racist video which circulated online Monday.

 

Godlewski’s comments were mentioned at commencement, where two students and members of the Blk Pwr Coalition, Faith Ocoko and Sydney Bobb, criticized the university’s response to the video.

“We’ve seen this before. The many missteps that this university and its administrators made in response to the video proved what we had already thought: that this university is not and has never been for our progression as Black students and global citizens,” Bobb said. 

You can read Godlewski’s complete apology below:

“To the University of Wisconsin–Madison student body, faculty and community, I sincerely apologize for the harmful actions and comments I made towards African American individuals. My words were utterly disgusting and unacceptable, whether in public or private. This is completely inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility for the pain and anger that I have caused across campus. Moreover, I know that no words can undo the hurt I have caused throughout the community, and for that I am deeply sorry. I commit myself to further reflection and learning to ensure I do not cause similar hurt in the future. Finally, I would like to apologize to the friends and family in my life that were directly affected by my choices."

You can read the Blk Pwr Coalition’s complete response below:

"It has come to our attention that Audrey Godlewski has released an apology for her white supremacist remarks. Although The Coalition is glad that she recognizes the harm that she caused our community, we are disappointed that she didn’t directly apologize to us — the BLK PWR Coalition, and UW-Madison’s Black population. Instead, she chose to release her apology to campus media before consulting with the people whom her comments directly impacted. The Coalition knows that white supremacy is bigger than her comments; What she ignited is the foundation on which this university stands. 

"We hope that she and all white students, faculty, staff, and administrators rid themselves of white supremacist ideologies and micro aggressions. We hope that they join Black students as we continue to demand and conjure systematic change for ourselves and future generations. 

"In short, we are tired of people reflecting and learning from the trauma that they inflict upon us. It is time for white people to divorce themselves of their privilege and power. It is time for a redistribution of resources. It is time for people to stand firmly behind Black Student Leadership.

"In the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass ‘If there is no struggle there is no progress.’ 

"We are committed to struggle. We are committed to progress. 

"‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest’ – Ella Baker 

"The BLK PWR Coalition.”

Editor’s note: This is a developing story. This article was updated at 8:48 p.m. on Monday, June 5, to add the Blk Pwr Coalition's response to Godlewski's statement.

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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.


Jasper Bernstein

Jasper Bernstein is the Associate News Editor for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @jasperberns.


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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