The release of a report from a conservative think tank alleging discriminatory practices within the University of Wisconsin Office of Admissions and Recruitment catalyzed a flurry of student mobilization in opposition to the study.
Students chanting “power to the people” and touting homemade signs giving a snapshot of their personal history began congregating outside the Doubletree Hotel to protest an 11 a.m. press conference Tuesday where the results of the study were presented by Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
Around the time the conference was scheduled to begin, hotel staff barred some journalists, including a Badger Herald reporter, photographer and videographer, and members of the community from entering, citing capacity concerns.
Outside the building, students addressed the assembled crowd on the racial disparity presented in the documents and urged supporters to resist what speakers characterized as an attack aiming to divide students of different racial identity or ethnicity.
When an exterior door was opened for an official exiting the building, students stormed the building in an attempt to enter the meeting. As Clegg and an associate hastily departed the conference for the hotel elevator, protesters held open the door and confronted the men with chants of “more than a score” for several minutes.
Around 300 members of the campus community later reassembled on Bascom Hill to rally supporters around the “attack,” which Damon Williams, vice provost for diversity and climate, promised would be met with coordinated action.
“When the Center for Equal Opportunity shows up at your door and levels the type of discriminatory claims that [are] built on a value system that candidly does not want your face here, we will mobilize swiftly and collectively,” Williams said.
Associated Students of Madison Vice Chair Beth Huang also said UW’s status as a public land grant university necessitates that issues of diversity and accessibility will remain crucial missions for the campus.
The events of the day culminated in a scheduled forum on affirmative action between Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church held at Union South and hosted by the Federalist Society for Law and Public Studies.
As attendees of the rally on Bascom, many of whom marched directly to the forum, filed into the auditorium, the University of Wisconsin Police Department reported nearly 750 people were admitted.
Throughout the event, Clegg contended that factoring race and ethnicity into admissions decisions causes a different brand of discrimination against some students.
“It’s unfair, it’s divisive, it compromises the academic mission of the university and it’s leading to guaranteed failure for these students,” he said. “A university that has double standards is implicitly saying it expects less of some students.”
The majority of those in attendance at the forum cheered Church’s assessment of the inherent value of affirmative action and shouted sentiments of disgust during portions of Clegg’s allotted time.
In considering whether admissions committees should take race and ethnicity into account in their decision making, Church said such action was necessary to keep in line with the “demographic realities” emerging on a national scale.
“We can’t afford to have a permanent underclass in the U.S. We need to have lawyers and doctors from all races,” Church said. “We can’t wait forever to achieve the glacial path to achieve full racial integration in the U.S.”
He also maintained that moderate affirmative action, which considers racial identity along with test scores and other factors, bears a meaningful place at institutions historically dominated by individuals of European-American decent.
Attendees gathered for a post-forum discussion after tensions peaked when the moderator ended the event on schedule at 8:30 p.m., in the midst of a question from a member of the audience.
–Pam Selman and Ryan Rainey contributed to this report.