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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Panel tackles race issues in Wisconsin

[media-credit name=’NATALIE WEINBERGER/Herald photo’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′]MCSC1_nw416[/media-credit]Racism in Wisconsin's education and judicial systems was the topic of panel discussion at the Multicultural Student Center Tuesday evening.

At the discussion, members of various advocacy groups cited unequal punishment of black school children and teenagers, the highest black imprisonment rates in the country and the overall unfair treatment of minorities in state institutions as proof of the rampant racism in Wisconsin's schools, prisons and courtrooms — including those in Madison.

"It's shameful and disgraceful [for Wisconsin] to be named 'the worst place to be black' by black commentators," Diane Riley of Wisconsin's American Civil Liberties Union said before a packed audience.

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Barbara Golden, of the Madison Area Family and Advocacy/Advisory Coalition, was one of four participants in the "Education Not Incarceration: What Wisconsin Needs" panel discussion, sponsored by the Multicultural Student Coalition.

"What you look like in this community determines who gets called a criminal and who doesn't," Golden said during her speech on the unequal treatment of minority students in Madison and Wisconsin schools.

According to Golden, the use of police — instead of parents or school officials — by Wisconsin schools to intervene in behavioral problems has lead to a disparity between how black and white students are punished for similar acts.

"For traditional teenage behavior, they used to send [students] home to the parents. They're now calling the police," Golden explained. "Now, when Latinos and blacks get into a fight [at school], they're likely to get arrested."

Golden added the situation has become so severe in Wisconsin schools that even the youngest students encounter police intervention.

"Students as young as kindergarten are having police called on them," Golden said.

Golden also cited the No. 1 reason for black middle school students to get suspended or expelled is "insubordination," which she believes is a "vague" and "very subjective term."

"A teacher can say, 'He didn't take his hat off fast enough,' or 'He didn't stand up fast enough,' and call it insubordination," Golden explained. "Now, our black and Latino students are out of school and not getting the services they need."

University of Wisconsin sociology professor Pamela Oliver, who also took part in the panel, believes the War on Drugs is another contributor to Wisconsin's high rate of incarcerated blacks.

"For people under 25, whites are much more likely to use illegal drugs," Oliver said during her speech. "But the black-to-white ratio for prison admits on drug charges in Wisconsin is 60-to-1."

Oliver added blacks are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin is a lot worse than the rest of the country," Oliver said.

For event organizer and MCSC representative Josh Healey, getting the information out to the community was the most important part of Tuesday's panel.

"People [on campus] don't get much involved with Madison and the state of Wisconsin," Healey said after the event. "But there are problems in our own backyard that need to be brought to the light."

For UW students Elizabeth Soltis and Kate Holtz, the panel proved informative.

"I didn't realize quite how bad the situation in Wisconsin was," Holtz, a law school student studying juvenile justice, said while leaving the event. "It gave me a greater motivation to do what I want to do."

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