The University of Wisconsin-Madison will continue awarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) scholarships, administer race-neutral fee waivers and obtain approval for diversity questions following a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended affirmative action, the Blk Pwr Coalition said in a statement Monday night.
Diversity questions in admissions materials must be approved, with applicants being encouraged to “tie their identities back to the university’s mission in admissions essays.” Current “UW-specific” diversity scholarships will be unaffected, the coalition said.
It is currently unclear who would need to approve diversity questions in admissions materials.
Outside the admissions decisions process, fee waivers for admissions materials must also be race-neutral, the coalition said. While data on race will still be collected on admissions materials, that data will not be visible to those making admissions decisions, according to the statement.
UW-Madison Media Relations and Strategic Director Kelly Tyrrell told The Daily Cardinal in a statement Tuesday evening that DEI remains a “high priority” for the university and that UW-Madison is committed to ongoing collaboration with the Blk Pwr Coalition.
“We have seen the Blk Pwr Coalition’s update from Monday night and appreciate their leadership,” Tyrrell said.
The university is ensuring admissions decisions and fee waivers already offered to students experiencing financial hardship comply with the Court’s decision and guidance from the federal Departments of Justice and Education, Tyrrell said.
The future of affirmative action programs at universities across the country was thrown into doubt in June after a U.S. Supreme Court decision found race-conscious admissions programs unconstitutional.
The decision overruled decades of precedent that protected affirmative action programs at colleges and universities across the country and left UW-Madison students questioning the ruling’s effect on campus diversity.
When the decision was released, UW-Madison said it would remove race as a factor in its admissions practices to comply with the law while stressing that diversity remained a “bedrock value.”
As the university grapples with the Court’s decision, UW-Madison is under heavy pressure from the Republican-controlled state Legislature to cut DEI programs. Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin maintained last week that UW-Madison will not cut the programs but will potentially expand its “umbrella” of diversity programs.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in June that a state-run scholarship program for students of color would be among race-conscious state programs Republicans would seek to cut, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Blk Pwr Coalition seeks “self-determination,” will not register as student org
In their first release of the fall semester, the Blk Pwr Coalition said late Monday the Supreme Court’s decision made their organization’s work “extremely essential” and outlined how the changes would impact UW-Madison’s admissions process based on their conversations with state and UW-Madison leaders.
The Blk Pwr Coalition emerged in May after UW-Madison’s response to a viral video of a white UW-Madison student saying racial slurs and violent language caused campus-wide demonstrations.
The university was widely condemned as failing to protect its students of color and for not doing more to address decades of high-profile racial bias incidents against Black students on campus, something student activists say is rooted in UW-Madison’s history of systemic racism.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor told The Daily Cardinal last month that UW-Madison administrators met with the Blk Pwr Coalition on multiple occasions this summer.
The coalition said in the release they held conversations with university administrators as well as local and state officials including Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison.
Despite meeting with numerous UW-Madison leaders, including Mnookin, the group said they purposely structured their work outside the registered student organization system.
The group plans to secure “further operational structure” throughout the coming year and said they’ve already worked with collaborators to provide jobs, research positions and mentorships.
“We believe wholeheartedly in the self-determination of our community,” the coalition said Monday.
The release also addressed an ad hoc study group to survey “the Black student experience” at UW-Madison, which will meet throughout the semester before issuing a report penned for late January 2024.
“We hope that this is not another committee to study the problem,” the Blk Pwr Coalition said. “The university knows the problem. It is long overdue that Black people in and around the UW campus receive the investment, respect and accountability we deserve. We will hold the committee, its members and administration to account.”
The release outlined their intention to distribute scholarships and mutual aid to ameliorate student financial burden and said they were working with community partners, such as the Center for Black Excellence, to create a space where students, alumni and community members could connect.
The coalition said it looks forward to fighting for a bright future for the Madison Black community.
“It is our greatest hope that this organization can continue to fight for and support the Black community in and around UW-Madison for many years to come,” the statement read.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 7:57 p.m. to add a response from UW-Madison.
Anna Kleiber is an arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. She also reports on state politics and campus news. Follow her on Twitter at @annakleiber03.
Gavin Escott is a senior staff writer and photographer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for city, state, campus and breaking news. He is the current host/producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.
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.