University of Wisconsin’s BIPOC Student Coalition expressed disappointment towards their experiences with the UW administration and UW Police Department at the Associated Students of Madison’s student council meeting, Tuesday.
The BIPOC Coalition was particularly disapointed by Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s absence at the meeting.
Blank was scheduled to speak at the ASM meeting several weeks ago. Within 24 hours of the meeting, Blank canceled her appearance, after seeing that the BIPOC Coalition was slated to speak before her, according to ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick’s Twitter.
“My office requested time right in the beginning of the meeting for approximately 30 minutes as I have another commitment following the meeting,” Blank said in an email to Mitnick. “The ASM agenda that was shared with me today is different than what had been agreed upon. Given the published agenda and my previous commitment, it is unlikely that I will be able to have much time speaking with the Council members.”
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Mitnick said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor’s chief of staff Argyle Wade assured him that Blank had set aside time to attend the meeting from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Mitnick was told he could then structure the agenda as he saw fit and accordingly placed the presentation from the BIPOC Coalition for the first 25 minutes to be followed by the Chancellor.
Mitnick expressed his frustration in Blank’s decision to not appear at the meeting in an email to The Badger Herald.
“Words cannot express how disappointed I am in Chancellor Blank withdrawing her appearance at Student Council,” Mitnick said. “The fact that Chancellor Blank chose to email me nearly 24 hours after the original agenda was sent out proves that her reasons [for] not attending lie solely on the notion that she is afraid to hear from BIPOC student voices.”
BIPOC Coalition member Juliana Bennett said the coalition was formed due to the presence of racism on campus. Bennett said racism is alive and well at UW, adding that as a BIPOC student she has experienced racism on this campus from day one.
Bennett said instances of racism on campus include UWPD targeting students of color and Blank’s refusal to remove the statue of Abraham Lincoln.
Wisconsin Black Student Union volunteering coordinator Jayda Griffin said WBSU has been working tirelessly to ensure that Blank implements their demands which include the removal of Chamberlain rock, the removal of the Abraham Lincoln statue and a town hall meeting with Blank and BIPOC students to implement action to improve their experiences on campus.
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In the meeting WBSU had with Blank in July, the chancellor mentioned finding ways the univeristy could aid WBSU in education initiatives concerning Lincoln. Griffin said she also expressed interest in partcipating in the town hall.
Griffin said so far WBSU has received no further action form Blank on these points.
“We are frankly disappointed with the Chancellor’s overall dismissal of further action concerning our demands,” Griffin said. “We have experienced several pushbacks and avoidance of not only our demands but our existence. Today we are here to hold Chancellor Blank accountable by demanding that she follow through with her word and take action on all of our demands”
UW Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone said the university appreciates students’ passion for racial equality and inclusion on campus and plans to continue conversations with the Student Inclusion Coalition, WBSU and the BIPOC Coalition as well as individual students.
Reesor and Interim Chief of Diversity Officer Cheryl Gittens have invited these student groups to meet and discuss how the university can further their goals.
The BIPOC Coalition said UW administration and UWPD regularly make statements to the organization about their commitment to racial justice that never result real action.
For example, UWPD has not followed through on their commitment to meet the reform recommendations of #8Can’tWait. UWPD still allows chokeholds/neck restraints and shooting at moving vehicles in some cases as opposed to the recommendations of #8Can’tWait.
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BIPOC Coalition member, Tarah Stangler elaborated on the coalitions Lincoln demand, saying the statue represents someone who committed mass genocide, and that it is located near burial mounds.
“If the university wants to continue having good relations with people in the Ho-Chunk nations as well as other indigenous nations, we need to acknowledge that their opinion is the most important because this is their land,” Stangler said. “BIPOC students, specifically indigenous students and members of the indigenous nations that surround the area have stated how uncomfortable they are with having this. Their opinion matters first, not ours.”
Rep. Jacob Pankratz then asked what the BIPOC Coalition’s stance was regarding the recent interaction UWPD had with a personal tweet of Chair Mitnick’s.
Mitnick posted on his personal account a tweet in support of defunding the police and the removal of UWPD from campus. UWPD responded to Mitnick’s tweet, calling him out for not aligning with ASM’s statement that they, as an organization, do not support defunding UWPD.
Stangler said the BIPOC Coalition was appalled at the unprofessionalism of UWPD.
“When we’re talking about defunding police, this is something that is very important to us because of actions like this,” Stangler said. “When you target students specifically and you call them out by name on their own personal account for voicing their own personal opinions, that’s unacceptable. If they can’t differentiate between the actions of an individual and the actions of an entire organization then I think they need to be very careful of their next work.”