University of Wisconsin students gathered outside Gordon Dining Hall and Event Center to protest the university’s COVID-19 Smart Restart plan and demand racial justice on Saturday.
Following a community surge in COVID-19 cases due to students’ return to campus and the quarantine of two UW dorms this week, about 100 students gathered at a protest at Gordon Dining Hall, calling on UW to implement the Teaching Assistant Association’s moral restart plan and a set of 10 demands to address racial injustice on campus.
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The protest — entitled Gordon’s Graveyard — was hosted by the UW BIPOC Coalition in-between Witte and Sellery, the two dorms currently quarantined by the university. The UW BIPOC Coalition launched at the beginning of the fall semester, following a summer of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement across the country.
At the start of the protest, UW BIPOC Coalition founder Juliana Bennett said the current Smart Restart plan prioritizes money over students.
“I genuinely want to know why some f**king money is more important than my life,” Bennett said. “I want to know why you brought all these students over here just to put them all in f**king quarantine.”
Students with cars blocked the strip of Johnson street surrounding Gordon Dining Hall and joined in chants shouting “hey, hey Becky Blank, how many kids did you kill today?”
Protest organizers handed out grave-shaped posters and encouraged students to place them in the Gordon lawn with messages to the university about the Smart Restart plan. Bennett and other organizers said the irresponsibility of the Smart Restart plan has endangered students and the community at large.
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“A lot of us think about the University of Wisconsin-Madison as separate from the Madison community, but really one and the other are intertwined,” Bennett said. “University of Wisconsin is Madison, and what us as students do affects this community.”
In addition to the push for a moral restart, the UW BIPOC Coalition demands, made in partnership with BIPOC organizations across campus, call for the removal of the Abraham Lincoln statue and the Chamberlin Rock for their racist histories, the abolition of UWPD, recognition of UW BIPOC student organizations with permanent funding and several other initiatives aimed to address systemic racism.
Vice President of the Wisconsin Black Student Union Nzinga Acosta spoke in support of the demands, specifically calling on UW to address the demands made by student protesters in 1969. Acosta said UW needs to prioritize their BIPOC students.
“We stand together in a fight against two enemies — a pandemic that has plagued the world for months and racial injustices that have plagued this nation for centuries,” Acosta said. “This fight has both motivated us and it’s drained us. And at this point it’s safe to say that we all wish things to be peaceful. But there can be no peace if there is no justice, and that is why we are here today.”
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In an interview with The Badger Herald, Bennett said the protest against Smart Restart and UW’s inaction to take up BIPOC students’ demands was a symbol of the university’s disregard for BIPOC students’ lives.
Bennett said UW did send an email to the UW BIPOC Coalition following the release of their demands. Though, Bennett said UW has not followed up with action or granted their request to have a meeting with Chancellor Blank.
Bennett said the UW BIPOC Coalition will continue working with other campus student organizations and committee partners until their demands about the moral restart and racial injustice are met.
“The Madison community cares about us, and we must care about them,” Bennett said.