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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Mnookin speaks to student journalists at a roundtable on April 23, 2024.

UW-Madison chancellor talks campus protests, sustainability, cultural centers in media roundtable

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor discussed recent campus policy and challenges to protesters and student belonging on campus in a student media roundtable.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor reflected on recent challenges and accomplishments Tuesday at a roundtable with campus news organizations. 

Mnookin discussed major accomplishments in her second year as chancellor, including establishing the Wisconsin Research, Innovation and Scholarly Excellence (RISE) program, a targeted hiring initiative in six areas including artificial intelligence and sustainability. She also announced six weeks of paid family leave for university employees earlier this month.

Mnookin and Reesor answered questions from student journalists on the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, their partnerships with the Associated Students of Madison and spaces for marginalized students on campus.

Campus protests, freedom of speech 

In response to protests across campus over the war in Gaza and frustration over the university’s current protest policy, Mnookin voiced her support of students' right to assemble and utilize their freedom of speech, so long as those actions “stay within permissible limits and rules.” 

“It’s really important as a public university that we offer spaces for free expression while balancing safety and security,” she said. 

In light of pro-Palestine protests at college campuses across the country, Mnookin clarified UW System Guidelines prohibit any person from picnicking or camping “on university lands, except in those areas specifically designated,” under UWS 18.07(04).

Reesor said the university plans to increase the amount of clear information and resources available to students online about protesting rights. She also mentioned the new mandatory “free expression” module, a new training program for students required as part of a controversial December deal between the UW System Board of Regents and Republican state lawmakers.

Sustainability goals, achievements 

Mnookin discussed the recently announced RISE-EARTH, a new research hub for sustainability on campus, and her February 2024 commitment to five sustainability goals. She highlighted ASM Sustainability Committee’s collaboration to develop these policies.

“For the first time, we are having clearly defined goals for our campus, for global energies, zero emissions, zero waste,” Mnookin said. “This was the product of so many people’s work, of a lot of engagement by a lot of people, including shared governance.” 

Christina Treacy, ASM Sustainability Chair, told The Daily Cardinal in February that ASM was “excited that the university is actually taking institutional action on sustainability.” 

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However, Treacy said ASM Sustainability was “discourag[ed] to see that our further feedback was not necessarily implemented” in regards to certain sustainability goals and making a sustainability academic requirement.

Campus cultural centers

Demands for a physical space on campus for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) students have been circulating around campus, most recently in the form of a petition created by ASM intern Haia Al Zein. As of Wednesday, the petition has more than 300 signatures.

“We've had tremendous success with the MENA heritage months, and certainly that is a growing population of students who are searching for community and belonging. We want to and will continue to support that work,” Reesor said. “I think the question is, is the center also the right way to do that, or are there other ways to support our students?”

Currently, the Multicultural Student Center (MSC) oversees four identity centers: the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Student Center, the Black Cultural Center, the Indigenous Student Center and the Latinx Cultural Center. The McBurney Disability Center also has a Disability Cultural Center.

Reesor said other student groups on campus are interested in permanent gathering spaces, including Mecha de UW-Madison, a Latine student organization that was temporarily relocated to the Red Gym because of Levy Hall’s construction, and the Indigenous Student Center, an organization whose building is threatened by possible Levy Hall expansion.

Other groups with an interest in campus space include veterans, first-gen students and students in recovery.

With many groups looking for support, Reesor said it can be difficult to decide “how many [centers] we will have and who decides [them].”

Student Affairs leadership has met with consultants and hosted listening sessions to obtain feedback on the use of student spaces on campus, Reesor added.

Campus efforts to support mental, spiritual well-being

Reesor highlighted advancements in mental health resources and availability, including a 40% reduction in wait times for University Health Services mental health appointments over the last two years.

She announced additional mental health counselors will become available in the Red Gym and the McBurney Disability Cultural Center next fall to support students in those spaces.

Apart from mental health professionals, the university is looking to hire peer educators to assist in educating students with historically limited access to healthcare and healthcare information because of a grant from the American College Health Foundation.

“We know from research the power of peer mentors, that you all listen to each other far more than anybody else,” Reesor said. 

Reesor also mentioned an increase of outreach and support for students celebrating non-Christian holidays offered by the Center for Interfaith Dialogue. Support measures include providing students with language to speak with instructors about missing class for holidays as well as directly educating instructors on the importance of these holidays. 

“This year specifically, but certainly not limited, it’s been very focused on our Jewish students and our Muslim students,” Reesor said. “It shouldn’t always have to be the burden of religious students to have to do that education and explanation.”

Editors Note: This story was last updated at 5:16 p.m. on Apr. 24, 2024.

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Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the photo editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year journalism student. She has covered multiple stories about university sustainability efforts, and has written for state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6

Noe Goldhaber

Noe Goldhaber is the college news editor and former copy chief for the Daily Cardinal. She is a statistics major and has reported on a wide range of campus issues. Follow her on Twitter at @noegoldhaber.

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