A University of Wisconsin administrator introduced the “I am UW” campaign, a unifying messaging strategy in response to recommendations from the campus climate survey, at Associated Students of Madison’s meeting Wednesday night.
The campaign will try to make campus feel more inclusive by uniting the diverse student body under the shared identity of being a UW student.
Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Patrick Sims said Wednesday’s presentation, unlike previous years, where he would provide an update on diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus, this time around he decided to share the “secret sauce” UW campaign, which will focus on highlighting the shared love of UW.
This comes in response to a 2016 survey which found that, though most students feel welcome on campus, minority students reported a less positive campus climate.
UW has four strategic priorities between 2018 and 2022, Sims said. Along with providing “thought leadership,” developing the next generation of leaders and chronicling UW’s commitment to inclusion, UW is prioritizing institutional engagement. He compared the need to incorporate students into difficult conversations, like inequities on campus, to the wildfires on the West Coast of the U.S.
“You don’t just have 10 percent of your population participating, trying to put the fire out,” Sims said. “Everyone plays a role because everybody has a vested interest in the outcome, the safety and wellbeing of the entire community. That’s no different when it comes to engaging diversity and inclusion.”
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As a result of the campus climate survey, seven recommendations were made to improve campus climate for minority students. Sims said UW is focusing on the recommendations to promote diversity, inclusion and mutual respect across differences.
To do this, the university came up with a “crazy idea” to create a unifying message. Through student focus groups, the university found that such a campaign would help address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
Sims found that while students did not view diversity and unity as one and the same, they were united by a shared love of UW.
While students of color report having mixed feelings about their time on campus, the report found they tend to feel enthusiastic and energized about the importance of their education and making sure other people of color have the same opportunity to attend, Sims said.
“We’re in a bit of an oxymoronic scenario, but the reality is people see that there are tremendous things happening on this campus and they want more students to experience that level of engagement, support and love for their alma mater,” Sims said.
This lead to the I am UW campaign, which has the goal of drawing out the shared Badger identity of students on campus. Sims said he hoped all students would be able to see themselves represented “all across campus” for this campaign.
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Shared Governance Chair Amol Goyal asked if Sims was worried that such a campaign could backfire.
Sims said he hoped the majority of students would see themselves as active participants in the campaign. The campaign’s success would be based upon reaching out to students before and after the campaign and gauging their feelings toward it.
Additionally, the campaign will not be viewed as the solution to concerns over campus climate, he said, but merely a piece of a larger puzzle that would hopefully encourage a gradual shift toward a more inclusive campus.
Sims said it’s possible somebody could make fun of or disrespect the campaign. If that’s the case, he said it would be important to try to learn from the incident.
“We can only hope that wouldn’t happen,” Sims said. “But in the event that it does, that’s data, that’s information that lets you know, ‘boy we’ve still got a long ways to go.'”