University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank said today the New York Times’ recent coverage of controversy around the UW Student Homecoming Committee’s video “lacked context and nuance.”

Last fall, the UW Student Homecoming Committee released a video meant to showcase the tradition and strength of the UW student body. The video included almost entirely white students, resulting in backlash from several multicultural student organizations and the creation of the Student Inclusion Coalition, or SIC, by a group of students of color.

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The New York Times article discussed the Homecoming video and SIC’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on campus.

At a protest last fall, SIC released five demands for the administration to fulfill, including: publicly recognizing the sacrifice of past student activists of color, recognizing and funding multicultural student organizations, improving support systems for marginalized students on campus, responding to acts of oppression and restructuring the homecoming committee to share funds with the Multicultural Homecoming Committee. The full list of their demands is available on their Instagram.

Blank’s statement, which was co-signed by UW Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Patrick Sims, said the NYT article successfully highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion efforts on campus, but that it didn’t mention any of the university’s efforts to improve in response to the backlash. 

Blank also said the article didn’t contextualize the issue of diversity on college campuses as not unique to Madison. 

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“UW is not alone in struggling with the differential experiences of underrepresented students on campus and in our community,” Blank’s statement said. 

Blank referenced several recent efforts undertaken to raise awareness for diversity on campus. Some were reactionary to the video, including further sensitivity training for the Wisconsin Alumni Association-sponsored student organizations who created the video and their advisors, new protocols for student WAA communications and a plan to diversify the composition of WAA student organizations. 

Blank said a program called Targets of Opportunity aims to diversify their faculty, and the university plans to upgrade their cultural spaces on campus, including the Red Gym. UW has also expanded the number of cultural centers on campus, her statement said. 

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Blank also called this year’s Annual Diversity Forum the largest and most successful yet, and she cited several marketing campaigns meant to showcase student diversity and promote inclusion.

One, called #IAmUW, hangs posters in popular campus spaces like College Library and features students, faculty and staff using their passions to contribute to the campus community. Many of the posters feature people of color. Another campaign called Why I Love UW will highlight stories from accomplished and diverse alumni. 

Blank said the PEOPLE, Business Emerging Leaders and Posse programs all provide resources, support and community for underrepresented students on campus. 

“We recognize we have more work to do,” Blank said. “Working towards greater diversity and inclusion is not something you finish. It’s an ongoing process … every time we take one step, we need to think about the next step after that.”

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Blank said the university asked individual schools and colleges on campus to come up with their own plans to promote diversity and inclusion, along with the other aforementioned programs. 

Blank said because UW has a predominantly white student body and is located in a state with a predominantly white population, the administration must work to ensure that students who aren’t part of the majority still feel supported. 

“As we look toward 2020 the leadership at UW is committed to continue making this issue a priority,” Blank said. “We want the outcomes on this campus to measure up to our aspirations. We know we aren’t there yet. We hope that you will join us on that journey.”