A listening session Tuesday with Chancellor John Wiley and Dean of Students Alicia Chavez offered UW-Madison students an opportunity to address their concerns and offer recommendations to the administration in dealing with racial issues on the UW campus.
In the first of three forums, Wiley expressed a desire to “take the temperature of the campus” and encourage students to report all experiences of harassment.
“Since Sept. 11, there have been 15 reports of discriminatory acts, including some against Middle Eastern and Islamic students,” Wiley said.
However, according to Wiley, neither the UW Police nor the Islamic Center on campus has heard much of such encounters.
Students of color at the forum expressed concern that there is insufficient communication between the administration and the minorities suffering from such harassment.
One female student illustrated an ideal atmosphere in which the perpetrators of hate crimes would feel more uncomfortable harboring hateful feelings than would the recipients. She suggested regulations enabling administrators to designate proper speech on campus.
“I don’t know that I have the power to change people’s minds,” Wiley said in response. “An edict of what can and cannot be said or done often backfires.”
Chavez mentioned the dilemma proposed by restrictions on free speech.
“We do not have laws against hateful words because of free speech,” she said. “We need to both protect the right to free speech and educate on its potential damage.”
Many Muslim and Arab-American students presented suggestions to improve the current campus atmosphere, all of which stressed more communication between the administration and minority student groups.
Many of the student advocates think the university should pursue development of a professional program that would aid faculty in helping students deal with racial issues.
However, Wiley admitted neither he nor many faculty members are qualified to do so.
“Professors are not equipped to be grief counselors,” he said.
Among concerned students at the forum, the general sentiment was that an alert from the Chancellor asking students to watch for suspicious behavior does not promote a more sensitive campus atmosphere; instead, it perpetuates racial stereotypes.
Chavez said she was impressed with the response of many campus leaders after the Sept. 11 attacks; however, many students said not enough has been done.
Most of the students who spoke up said Wiley failed to address racism, condemn hate crimes or take the responsibility of aiding minority students in his editorial published in local newspapers.
Wiley defended his writing as sentiments of “human decency and tolerance” and said he avoided the word “racism” to prevent negative repercussions.
Wiley and Chavez responded to all concerns raised by students, welcomed further discussion and encouraged students to step forward with complaints and suggestions.
Wiley asked everyone in the campus community to think about the official reporting channels for all forms of harassment or discrimination.
“I understand that people are afraid, but it is extremely frustrating for us to act,” Wiley said. “We really need better information and exact incidences in order to create a proactive atmosphere.”
Two additional forums will be held Wednesday, Oct. 24 and Thursday, Oct. 25.