At University of Wisconsin, students of color make up two percent of the student population, and The Black Voice blog and Wisconsin Black Student Union emphasize the importance of providing safe spaces for conversations about racial injustices and disparities.
While the university provides safe spaces for students of color like the Multicultural Student Center and Office of Pathways to Academic Achievement, there are not many “physical” spaces for students of color to communicate with one another.
The Black Voice, the former name for a student activist paper in the 1970’s, is now the name of a newly launched blog and Twitter account meant to create a safe space to celebrate and acknowledge students of color.
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The blog’s name intends to highlight the similarities and concerns of students of color that have echoed throughout campus for decades, Jordan Gaines, UW senior and the blog’s creator, said.
“I kept the name to highlight what has been done and what needs to be done, and a lot of things that were talked about in the 1970’s issues are still very prevalent and pertinent today,” Gaines said.
Gaines said she created the blog as a space for students of color who did not feel comfortable within the “mainstream” of campus.
The blog features publications from students about news on campus, opinions and other selected writings meant to demonstrate that students of color are a part of many holistic experiences and not just tragic, racialized ones, Gaines said.
Today Blk students at UW took another step towards demanding their deserved place on campus https://t.co/xYaZn52gIz
— TheBlackVoiceUW (@BlackVoicesUW) December 12, 2015
Gaines hopes the blog will shed light on the continued effort and work by students of color to make campus more inclusive.
Safe spaces like The Black Voice allow students of color to have conversations about social injustices and racial disparities, Marquise Mays, President of the Wisconsin Black Student Union said.
— TheBlackVoiceUW (@BlackVoicesUW) November 13, 2015
With multiple university protests and a nationwide questioning of police bias, safe spaces allow students of color to have a place and time for healing. Especially, as Mays explained, when there are few students of color on campus.
“I think these spaces are really important because there is not really an opportunity for us [students of color] on campus to collectively say we belong here without being reminded that we are the minority,” Mays said.
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Mays said it is important that UW administrators, faculty and all students participate in the conversations too — not just students of color.
By having an inclusive conversation, UW could think about the ways in which they recruit and retain students of color, he said.
Gaines also hopes UW will demonstrate that they care about students of color and their comfort on campus.
“We want to see more of some sort of sign that we aren’t the only ones doing the work by ourselves and we aren’t the only people who care about ourselves,” Gaines said.
Before UW can acknowledge their support and care for students of color, Mays said the university has to first hold themselves accountable for instances in which the university has not proven to be very diverse or inclusive.
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The university has to acknowledge these instances so they can understand the true well-being of students of color, Mays said. Administrators need to come to these safe spaces and participate in a dialogue with students about these issues on campus.
“I think this year is just making sure we have these difficult conversations about race, about sexism, about racism that somewhat relate and make the majority of students at UW-Madison uncomfortable,” Mays said. “I think our job is to continue these conversations.”