After at least two University of Wisconsin students were found responsible for a potential mock lynching demonstration on a popular campus street earlier last week, members of the UW community have come together in protest of the incident’s seemingly discriminatory nature and university officials have condemned the students’ actions.
Last Thursday, university officials were notified of a life-sized Spiderman doll which was hung by the neck from the balcony of an apartment building on Langdon Street, which numerous concerned witnesses interpreted as a depiction of a lynching.
Residents of the apartment had already removed the doll from the balcony by the time UW officials were contacted, according to a statement from the university. At least two of the residents of the apartment are believed to be UW students.
In the statement, Associate Dean Kevin Helmkamp said while the incident took place at an off-campus residence, it nevertheless reflects poorly on the campus as a whole.
“The horrible images of lynching that this doll evoked were disturbing and inconsistent with university values and those of the entire Madison community,” Helmkamp said.
Helmkamp said he has been in the process of meeting with the residents of the apartment, who he described as cooperative and apologetic concerning the incident.
In a statement released June 10, Dean of Students Lori Berquam said the incident is a warning that students must carefully weigh the possible implications of their actions.
“Regardless of the intent, it symbolized a lynching – an act that is historically rooted in hate and oppression,” Berquam said. “The consequence of this seemingly harmless ‘joke’ has left some students, staff and faculty feeling appalled and shocked.”
Berquam also said all UW students must take an active role to ensure they are helping to foster a safe and respectful environment for all members of the campus community.
She added that a temporary agenda of civility and respect promoted by university officials and members of the community would not be enough to ensure incidents of this nature would not be repeated
A permanent conversation over the possible effects of these kinds of actions must be put in place, Berquam said.
“Incidents of this kind happen far too often, and we have to do more to help each member of our campus community understand the unintended implications of their actions and the power of symbols,” Berquam said.
UW student Rebecca Pons said she is not surprised the
incident occurred because she said it is a reflection of Madison’s history of racism and
discrimination against marginalized groups.
Pons and several other students organized a rally on Langdon
last week attended by some 60 people and 5 or more student groups, she said, in
an attempt to educate residents about the history of lynching. She said the
group left educational information and art outside of the apartment where the
doll incident occurred.
Pons said UW has not gone far enough to discipline the
students responsible who she said have broken at least three UW student codes
of conduct as well as state and federal laws. She said it is up to student
groups to educate their peers about the histories and struggles of marginalized
“We will proactively educate the rest of our student
community because if [UW is] not doing it, it’s on us,” Pons said. “The ethnic studies isn’t doing it, the dean
of students isn’t doing it, the office of student life isn’t doing it. We would love for them to step up and do more
but if they’re not going to then we’re just going to be doing it on our own.”