Members of MEChA and other student organizations held an impromptu discussion concerning diversity issues in response to an e-mail sent by the University of Wisconsin Office of Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate proposing a diversity photo shoot Wednesday.
According to MEChA representatives, the e-mail was sent to members of organizations catering to underrepresented minority groups asking for member participation in the shoot.
The event was scheduled to take place at three locales around campus with the plan to provide participants with coffee and bagels while securing images of diversity on campus, the e-mail said.
MEChA had coordinated a protest to be held on East Campus Mall at the shoot, before the photo shoot was abruptly canceled.
Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams attended the discussion to publicly apologize for the e-mail and said that it was an example of bad communication on the part of his office.
“Though it was poorly implemented, the e-mail came from a good place,” Williams said. “The purpose was to gather images to represent the story of the university and stories of possibility.”
Many people expressed frustration at the dialogue because they felt the photo shoot was solely for promotional purposes and was an example of UW using false advertising.
Participants highlighted the need for accountability from Williams and other members of the administration.
Williams said the reality of the situation involves the necessity of marketing and selling UW to prospective students.
He also said he personally did not authorize the e-mail, nor did Chancellor Biddy Martin.
Members of the dialogue also expressed frustration stemming from a lack of support from campus administration and called for Williams to address recent campus incidents involving the promotion of racial stereotypes.
Individuals shared personal stories of racially charged abuse and intolerance during their time at UW, evidencing the need for continuing activism and policy changes within campus administration.
In an e-mail to The Badger Herald, Rebecca Pons, a member of the discussion and UW alumna, explained the photo shoot’s negative impact “because of the history of the campus and continual tokenization of people of color.”
Pons also said in the wake of Williams’ apology for the photo shoot, bridges of trust, communication and community need to be built between the administration and students in order to bring lasting changes in the experiences of students of color on campus.
Williams also said he plans on holding a formal forum addressing diversity-based issues in the second semester, despite the group’s requests that he directly respond to recent events in a more timely manner.
Participants in the discussion also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of mental and emotional support available to minority students on campus.
“Students hold the administration to a higher level of consciousness,” Williams said. “I have to operate as a temperate radical, working for change within the context of the system.”
Pons said that a lack of solidarity and involvement from the greater campus community have presented substantial obstacles to groups advocating change and that diversity issues have affected a broad range of students from color communities.
Correction: This article’s original online headline said the forum was held at the MEChA office, but it was actually held in the Red Gym. The article’s headline in print is correct. We regret the error.