University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank agreed to meet with UW BIPOC student organizations twice a semester in a virtual meeting with several BIPOC campus organizations Wednesday night.
Following multiple student requests to meet with Blank about BIPOC students’ concerns on campus, the Asian American Student Union, Filipinx American Student Organization, Teaching Assistants’ Association and the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition expressed their concerns directly to the chancellor.
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The four groups, in solidarity with nearly a dozen other marginalized student affinity groups on campus, called on Blank to meet with BIPOC student groups once per month to create timelines on reaching their organization-specific goals.
Blank was opposed to meeting with the groups monthly, stating the UW administration has other staff members and deans that are “better equipped” to handle the concerns of students.
UW BIPOC Coalition co-founder Juliana Bennett said UW has a long history of not acting upon recommendations from student advisory groups, and these organizations believe getting dedicated face-to-face time with the chancellor once per month would hold the administration accountable to BIPOC student demands.
“Tokenizing BIPOC students, creating this false image of diversity on campus, yet the university is removing safe spaces for BIPOC students and overall claiming to value diversity,” Bennet said. “But I am sorry Chancellor Blank, we literally had to hunt you down to have this conversation … These things just go to show diversity is not a statement.”
Blank pointed to work in the newly created Diversity, Equity and Inclusion branch — resulting from the Homecoming Video incident and subsequent demands last year — to recognize BIPOC student concerns.
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Specifically, Blank said Dean of Students Christina Olstad, Chief Diversity Officer Cheryl Gittens and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor should field the concerns from students.
“When you are talking to them, you are talking to me … I will tell them ‘go deal with this’ because that is their job,” Blank said.
Blank said it is “not [her] job” to meet with all stakeholders at UW, citing the fact that she does not meet with any particular stakeholder once per month. Bennett and other students argued racial injustices on campus need Blank’s direct attention.
The organizations continued to push for the monthly meeting, arguing that the administration needed to involve more students, especially BIPOC and student workers, in crafting and implementing the reopening plan. Without making changes to the people allowed to have direct access to the chancellor, the students on the call said UW is not prioritizing transparency to its BIPOC students who are demanding change.
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Bennett and the other students called on Blank and the other administrators at the meeting to respond to the demands of BIPOC students in a direct manner, arguing they should not have to be activists and full-time students at the same time.
“I have an econ exam tomorrow,” Bennett said. “I can’t study for my exam because I’ve had to spend the last week preparing for this meeting. I’m a full-time student and a full-time activist. You guys are full-time workers. Why aren’t you doing your job?”
Blank said it is “not all on the backs of students,” again referring to student advisory committees within different UW administration departments and allocating responsibility to other departments.
The students argued these groups shuffle students through the same system, wearing them out and discouraging them from trying to bring issues forward.
“BIPOC students, we deserve more than empty words and statements of solidarity, and a process that is shrouded with ambiguity with what’s going to change and what’s not going to change,” Bennett said.
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Gittens and Reesor committed to future meetings to further discuss specific issues, such as the mental health crisis on campus for BIPOC students following the multiple police-involved shootings this year and claims surrounding a black jeep driving around campus targeting BIPOC students.
The UW BIPOC Coalition and other organizations present said they will continue to press for meeting time and a seat at the table, pushing their demands to the forefront of the conversation.