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Monday, September 25, 2023
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Sen. Kelda Roys connects with student leaders from UW-Madison to discuss student concerns

UW-Madison students met with state Sen. Kelda Roys on Tuesday, Aug. 22, to talk about state-wide issues affecting the university, including DEI initiatives, campus speech and voting.

Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, met with student organizations Tuesday, Aug. 22, to discuss issues affecting students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison including housing, diversity initiatives, campus speech and voting. 

Leaders from the Society of Women Engineers, BadgersVote, the Associated Students of Madison and Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now attended the roundtable discussion. 

“I view one of my roles in the Legislature to be the senator that represents the campus,” Roys said to the students. “As an alumna, I really try to be the university’s voice in the Capitol and advocate for the UW-Madison community.” 

Roys said hearing directly from students is helpful because they make up a significant portion of the district she represents. 

“It really focuses me on what I need to be doing to make sure that Wisconsin is a place where everyone can thrive now and long into the future,” Roys said. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

The discussion began with why the GOP-controlled Legislative budget-writing committee cut $32 million from UW System funding. Roys explained that the Republicans’ decision was motivated by their hope to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on UW campuses as well as to increase the divide between political parties.

“It is a way for them to get their base really angry and fired up, and to exacerbate the divisions between us that they think helps them politically,” Roys said. 

Several students expressed concerns about Republican plans to close diversity offices amid  intensifying fights over equity and free speech on UW campuses, notably at UW-Madison

Roys said her team is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“The [UW-Madison] chancellor was steadfast from the beginning — she was not going to be negotiating about [the elimination] whatsoever and same with Jay Rothman, the president of the UW System,” she explained. “Our office is very committed to making sure that all underrepresented groups are able to get the resources they need to be successful at UW and to get a better experience.” 

Roys noted that UW-Madison would be able to raise private funds to cover programs that are being targeted by the Republicans, though that option is less certain for other UW campuses. 

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Regarding free speech on campus, Roys explained that the university cannot limit speech based on its viewpoint under the First Amendment. She encouraged student leaders to continue building supportive communities and figure out ways to help each other.

The housing crisis

Student leaders expressed the difficulty UW-Madison students face trying to find affordable housing. The outcome has led students to question the governmental efforts provided to solve the crisis. 

For example, students shared that the quality of living conditions at UW-Madison residential halls have been declining the past few years as the university’s enrollment number continue to increase.

“There was one form that I visited last year because the student placed a complaint,” said Gracie Nelson, UW-Madison senior class president. “The room had three bunk beds with six kids, none of them had a closet.” 

Other students mentioned that these unfavorable living situations can negatively affect students’ mental health. 

In response, Roys explained that, in addition to a large influx of people moving to Madison in the past few decades, the crisis is also related to state politics. UW System campuses must receive permission from the state government for their building projects, such as dorm renovations. 

“We have to make sure that UW gets the ability to manage its own finances and building projects,” Roys said. “But that’s very hard because, of course, the Republicans love having UW under their control.” 

She also mentioned the necessity for the city to build more housing for all income groups. 

Campus voting 

Despite the recent surge in student voter turnout at UW-Madison, student leaders shared with Roys that there is still a barrier for young voters. 

At UW-Madison, a Wiscard is not valid as a voter ID, creating voting  challenges for some students, such as those from out-of-state, according to one of the students who expressed the concern. 

Roys told students that voter ID is one of her top priorities. She has discussed it with UW-Madison’s former chancellors as well as current Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, who is “very open” to the idea of making Wiscards a valid voter ID option.

However, because of the continuing increase in voting participation, the university does not see the issue as urgent, Roys said. 

Roys emphasized the importance of student voice, encouraging students to contact her office to share their concerns and issues affecting the UW-Madison community. 

“Having direct voices from people who know the most about what it’s like to be a student at UW is going to help me be a stronger, better advocate for our students,” Roys said.

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