Students suggested adding a service-based component and more relevant course topics among possible changes to the University of Wisconsin’s ethnic studies requirement at a roundtable event hosted by the student government Monday night.
The Associated Students of Madison’s Diversity Committee and the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Society and Politics branch co-sponsored the Ethnic Studies Roundtable Dinner to solicit student feedback on their experiences.
The purpose of the event was to gauge students’ opinions on how to better fulfill the mission of the ethnic studies requirement in today’s ever-changing multicultural world, 20 years after the original proposal.
Students expressed support for the requirement to include service learning with a greater emphasis on majors and expansion of topic.
“I hope participants give honest feedback on how and whether ethnic studies courses change people’s mind about things so that…it will empower the university to realize that we have student feedback and use it to shape our education,” Diversity Committee Chair Mia Akers said.
The event kicked off with an overview of the historical context of the ethnic studies requirement at the university and a performance from First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community.
The ethnic studies requirement first began as a response to various racial issues in the 1980s and stemmed from the idea that students should work to actively counteract these negative forces, Beth Huang, United Council for UW Students vice president, said.
“UW-Madison should take a lead role in combating bigotry and racism by instituting the program,” Huang added.
The ethnic studies requirement was reviewed in 2002 and again in the 2011 evaluation by the Academic Planning and Analysis Department of the Office of the Provost, she said.
The Diversity Committee will synthesize student feedback at next week’s meeting for common themes, committee member Maddy Schmid said.
Participants in the roundtable filled out note cards sharing their own experience with the requirement, adding suggestions for reform.
Mary Bechtol, a UW senior who attended the event, said it is important to educate students about ethnic issues early in their college career.
“I’m a senior and taking an interesting ethnic studies course now,” Bechtol said. “I would have taken more [ethnic studies] classes, but now I’m graduating.”
Other students who shared their suggestions at the open mic forum suggested possible improvements of the ethnic studies requirement could include dialogue-based discussion and making the course topics more applicable to students on campus.
UW student Kara Bissen said discussions of ethnic studies courses should include more specific examples from the campus community.
“Ignorant things are still happening at this world-renowned university…but many don’t realize [that],” she said.
Michael Jackson, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Diversity Plan Committee, said the ethnic studies requirement is a good idea in theory, but not necessarily effective in practice.
“People cannot be culturally aware by taking one particular course,” Jackson said. “We need to promote an environment that’s accepting.”
The Diversity Committee also made efforts to reach out to students other than those who are passionate about ethnic studies to make the opinions more representative, according to Akers.
The Diversity Committee has been working on the ethnic studies campaign since fall and hopes to include it in the new campus Diversity Plan, Akers said.
“It is our continued effort to make sure that this is a university priority no matter what direction it will be going,” Akers said.
The Diversity Committee will be holding a debrief on the Roundtable Dinner next Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Caucus Room of the Student Activity Center.