More than 400 students, faculty and community members attended the fifth annual Plan 2008 forum Monday at the Memorial Union. The meeting put focus on diversity throughout the University of Wisconsin system.
Few students attended the meeting, but one student and member of Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity for Learning Excellence, Natalie Orozco, said she saw the sections as helpful and enlightening.
“Attending a university is a privilege and the university is doing what they can with what they have,” Orozco said.
She said she believes these kinds of open discussions about diversity are the best way to inform people and get things moving in the right direction.
“Continuing these programs really helps, but at the same time it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly what else can be done to improve the situation,” Orozco said.
Making UW more diverse and addressing racial tension in the UW System was a prime objective of the forum.
Provost panel speaker Andy Smiltneek, a UW alumnus and representative of the Kimberly Clark Corporation, opened the lunch session.
“Diversity doesn’t just happen,” Smiltneek said during the meeting. “It must be managed.”
Smiltneek said diversity can and must be integrated for the good of the university community, as evidenced by much of the business world. He noted Kimberly Clark board members’ salaries correlate with Plan 2008 efforts to incorporate people of different gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation; it has been suggested that the UW follow suit.
Smiltneek also stressed the importance of “knowing how” to diversify the campus, not just “knowing why.”
“We all know why we must diversify our community,” Smiltneek said. “But what we need to learn is knowing how to make it happen.”
He listed the main steps to diversifying a population, namely bringing many different people together to create a “critical mass,” which eventually will lead to change.
“Put enough people that are different than you into your organization, and the culture will change. This is what leads to acceptance, and then, eventually, global acceptance.”
One UW student, who requested to remain anonymous, and who attended Plan 2008 in previous years said the transformation to a truly diverse community is a gradual process.
“[The Plan 2008 forum] helps, but only little by little. And it’s kind of the same stuff over and over,” the student said. “It gets the ball rolling … but very slowly.”
Another speaker at the enthusiastic lunch session was Marquette University alumna Dextra Hadnot of SBC-Wisconsin.
“Diversity is important because corporations need to mirror the community,” Hadnot said.
Smiltneek stressed trust, caring and respect are key factors for incorporating diversity at Madison, as well as on a broader scope. He added UW community members as individuals should work to maintain a diverse and dynamic community. Finding people from different backgrounds and helping and encouraging them through their college experiences is vital, Smiltneek added.
“If you want to be a Badger,” Smiltneek said in conclusion, “just come along with me.”