From the campus level to the city to the state, here are the biggest headlines from Fall 2019.
UW homecoming committee removes promotional video after student backlash citing lack of diversity.
On Sept. 30, The University of Wisconsin Homecoming Committee posted a video promoting homecoming festivities.
Students, however, immediately backlashed. UW student and person of color Janiece Piolet discussed the racism she found perpetuated in the video. In a Facebook post, she discussed the lack of mention of the Ho-Chunk nation, upon whose land the university is built upon, and the featuring of white hip-hop dancers, when the origin of hip hop is African-American.
She also noted the simple lack of diversity at UW and in the video specifically.
“I can count the number of students of color in this video on my hands,” Piolet said. “I can count the perceived number of students of color on the Homecoming Committee on one hand. As opposed, it would take quite some time to count the number of white identified individuals in this video. These are the faces you chose to show. I, a Black woman, am not represented once in this entire video, along with numerous intersectional identities across race, physical ability, color, religion, nationality, and other social identities.”
Payton Wade, another UW student and person of color, noted on Twitter that groups who were requested by the committee to film clips for the video had their work cut. Her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, filmed a clip that was cut. The sorority is also primarily students of color and historically black.
She also noted the the lack of black faces, but presence of things she considered more menial (“people’s butts as they jumped into the lake”).
As if being on a campus where you are unwanted and have to fight every day just to survive and make it isn’t bad enough @UWMadison is back at it again reminding us that we don’t belong here and that there is no room for Black students here. #SurvivingUW #HomeIsWhite #TheRealUW pic.twitter.com/7dTzAs4TRm
— 👑 P. Wade 👑 (@payton_renee_) September 30, 2019
The committee removed the video from their social media accounts, and posted an apology on their Facebook and Instagram accounts.
UW later released a new homecoming video, produced in partnership with the Student Inclusion Coalition. It acknowledged the error the homecoming committee made, and then showed several students of color sharing what their aspirations are and what they are passionate about.
On Oct. 23, The Wisconsin Union Directorate Society and Politics Committee and students also further discussed controversies revolving around the video.
At the meeting, students expressed their concern and said this exclusion of marginalized groups in the video is a product of lack of exposure and education of both the students and faculty.
UW professor Akbar Sayeed to return to campus after UW graduate student suicide.
On Nov. 13, UW College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson announced the return of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Akbar Sayeed this spring in an email to students.
Sayeed was suspended in 2016 after John Brady, an electrical engineering graduate student in Sayeed’s lab, died by suicide. The Wisconsin State Journal released reports of Sayeed’s “toxic” lab culture including aggression and overworking lab members. Brady’s father claimed these factors led Brady to take his own life.
UW authorized Sayeed’s return to campus to take place spring 2020, after a two year disciplinary suspension. Sayeed will be placed on administrative duties in the College of Engineering and will not be allowed to teach or interact with visitors, Robertson said in a statement.
On Nov. 5, about a week prior to Robertson’s email, the Graduate Student Association of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department had released a statement via Reddit. The letter outlined several systemic changes the organization believes need to take place for improved work environments. They also requested “faculty support” as they work to block Sayeed’s return to campus.
On Dec. 4, the Associate Students of Madison invited Robertson to its meeting to address the issue. Robertson said the college commissioned the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute to help develop special bias and hostile behavior training for faculty. At the time, he said 86% of the engineering faculty hadO taken the training, and those who did not complete the training were not eligible for any awards or recognitions from COE.
On Dec. 5, students gathered on Engineering Mall to protest the decision to allow Sayeed to return to campus, and issue a resolution to the provost.
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Student Association released a list of demands they hoped UW would implement. The resolution contains a “plan of action” the ECEGSA wants the university to take, electrical engineering graduate student and ECEGSA member Kyle Daruwalla told The Badger Herald, noting the resolution including firing Sayeed.
As students voice concerns over MPD cutting Langdon Street officer, UWPD works to cover area.
University of Wisconsin Greek Life has voiced safety concerns after the elimination of the Madison Police Department’s Langdon Neighborhood Officer.
The position, held by Damion Figueroa, was scheduled to be eliminated in January due to staffing shortages, according to 27 News. Citing to frustration with the budget, Figueroa resigned from the MPD in November.
Figueroa told 27 News the lack of support to MPD from the city, along with funding issues, lead him to make this decision.
According to The Badger Herald, the new liaison officer will cover territory in the Langdon Street, lower State Street, and 600 University Ave. corridor. While MPD will still have primary jurisdiction and call-and-service response to the off campus territory, the UWPD officer will be focused in the area to make relationships with students and serve as an additional access point for the off-campus community.
According to the external review conducted on University of Wisconsin fraternity and sorority life, released in September, Figueroa was directly cited in the review as an officer students mentioned having a positive relationship with.
The report added that the University of Wisconsin Police Department has a “poor, almost non-existent relationship with housed IFC/PHA chapters.”
UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott said to The Badger Herald that Langdon Street is not within UWPD’s jurisdiction, so MPD’s strong relationship with the area could stem from that. Lovicott added that UWPD “has a great relationship with MPD” and UWPD is out on Langdon Street frequently regardless.
JH Verhoff, chair of philanthropy for the UW chapter of Psi Upsilon, told The Badger Herald he was concerned about how the dynamic will shift with UWPD involved. Within Psi Upsilon, Verhoff said many members mirror his concerns of the uncertainty with the change to UWPD patrolling the area, given the nature of UW’s attitude toward Greek life.
But according to a statement by UWPD chief Kristen Roman, the new position will focus on building relationships so that it can serve as an effective resource for the off-campus community.
Youth activists fight for environmental justice, work with legal system to have fines waived.
On Sept. 20, Max Prestigiacomo, a freshman at UW, led his second Madison-based climate change strike. He is an example of the many UW students who attended the march, as mobilization to raise climate change awareness swept the campus.
“By characterizing the climate crisis as something that we still have time to solve, we provide a false sense of optimism,” Prestigiacomo said to the crowd. “This fatal lapse in reality will continue to perpetuate our sleepwalk into mass extinction. Unless we act.”
UW student group ReThink also works towards goals regarding climate change. It directs several different projects from reducing restaurant waste to educating others about compost, according to The Badger Herald.
But according to The Isthmus, youth activists and community members who organized the September protest received a bill from MPD totaling $4,631.66.
The Youth Climate Action Team of Wisconsin organized the march and received the bill on Nov. 8. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway waived the bill, Prestigiacomo told The Badger Herald.
The bill included charges for the police officers present at the site where the permit granted the activists to protest. According to The Badger Herald, Rhodes-Conway advised the MPD costs for the march be waived completely, and MPD worked with City Finance to rescind the bill.
It was also revealed in October that UW was ranked last out of all Big Ten schools in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System.
The report included 13 of the 14 official Big Ten schools, excluding Rutgers University. UW is one of the nine universities that has not signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.
The ACUPCC is a commitment that presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities can sign, ensuring their schools take steps toward becoming more sustainable.
Marijuana debate continues in Wisconsin legislature as states across the country move toward legalization.
In March 2019, Gov. Tony Evers announced his state budget would include plans to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and legalize it for medical use.
The proposal allowed individuals to carry up to 25 grams of marijuana. It would also allow manufacturing and distribution of up to 25 grams, according to Evers’ official press release.
The proposal also called for expunging the records of those previously convicted with possession of small amounts of marijuana and have already completed their sentences or are on probation.
A bipartisan medical cannabis bill was introduced to the Wisconsin legislature Sept. 20 by State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and State Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point.
Testin told The Badger Herald the bill would introduce a regulated process on both the patients’ end and production end. The bill requires a recommendation from the doctor as well as a registry system for said patients. On the production end, a licensing system would be put into place for growers, producers and sellers.
Testin said for him, the bill boils down to patient choice. Testin feels that patients should have access to options besides opioids, which are associated with many horror stories amid an opioid crisis.
Testin added that something he deemed a major challenge to getting the bill passed was uncertainties within the Republican party. Testin said he found some of his Republican colleagues, while not opposed to the idea of medical cannabis, were wary of putting a robust framework in place to support it.
The Madison Police Department former chief of police has gone on record that he supports the legalization of medical marijuana, MPD Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain said.
DeSpain also told The Badger Herald that Madison police are already unlikely to arrest individuals for small possessions of the drug.
Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, told The Badger Herald the recreational use of marijuana is not likely to pass in the Republican majority legislature.
“Until there is a shift in the number of Democrats in the legislature, recreational marijuana faces an uphill fight,” Taylor said.
Vaping in Wisconsin a concern to professionals as youth wind up in hospitals.
In early August, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 11 cases of serious lung impairments among teenagers and young adults who vaped recently, according to the City of Madison website.
University Health Services Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist Jenny Damask said nicotine found in electronic cigarettes is highly addictive, increases heart rate and blood pressure and could impact brain development.
UW Chief Medical Officer and Director of Medical Services Dr. Bill Kinsey said the vapor emitted by electronic cigarettes often contains toxic chemicals which pose risks to human health.
Based on statistics Damask accessed from AlcoholEDU, a compulsory online course for all incoming students at UW, 20.9% of incoming students this year reported past usage of electronic cigarettes, compared to 6.2% three years ago.
According to a statement to The Badger Herald from Marlena Holden, Director of Marketing & Health Communications at University Health Services, the use of e-cigarettes has quadrupled among incoming UW students since 2016.
Doug Jorenby, Director of Clinical Services for UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention and a professor of medicine, noted to The Badger Herald that vaping has been seen to potentially be a gateway to cigarettes.
“Something we’ve known for a couple of years now is that among adolescents — people younger than typical undergrad — who had never tried tobacco but started vaping, were between three to four times more likely to go on and start smoking,” Jorenby said. “There’s a really strong signal that if you pick up e-cigarettes because they’re not tobacco or not combustible, you still have greater risk later on to switching over to cigarettes.”
UW updated its campus smoke-free policy in 2016 to include e-cigarettes, Holden said.
The policy states that smoking is prohibited in all buildings, facilities and vehicles owned, operated or leased by UW. The policy specifies that “smoking” not only includes the burning of any type of lit device, but also “any other smoking equipment or the use of electronic smoking device including, but not limited to, an electronic cigarette, cigar, cigarillo, or pipe.”