Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Students speak out on misrepresentation in Summer Term photoshoot

Only two students in photo were UW students, students say
Katie Cooney

When junior Trang Hoang came to the University of Wisconsin, it was her first time in the United States. Despite having spent most of her life in Vietnam, Hoang didn’t feel too out of place at the university amidst other international students.

That changed when Hoang entered lecture halls.

“I started noticing, ‘Oh, I can count how many people look like me,’” Hoang said.


Senior Stephanie Salgado Altamirano recalled seeing diverse advertisements of UW during her senior year of high school, which led her to apply to the university.

“I thought, ‘That is so diverse relative to other colleges I could apply to in Wisconsin,’ and therefore I want to go there,” Salgado said. “Those pictures were clearly crafted to make me think that way.”

Despite UW advertisements frequently displaying diversity, over 60% of students are white, according to the 2020 spring enrollment report. Last summer, both Hoang and Salgado tried to participate in UW advertisements themselves to represent diverse students.

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Hoang works for the Center of First Year Experience — specifically the SOAR program — at UW. Over the summer, she received an email from supervisors about a paid opportunity with the Division of Continuing Studies.

Salgado received the same email from her boss while working for the Transfer Transition Program, which is under the same office as the Center for First Year Experience.

The email stated the Summer Term office was looking for UW students to participate as extras in a photoshoot, which would be used as digital and print advertisements. With a total of four sessions between Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, students could receive $75 for each session they were selected for all they had to do was fill out the Google Form attached to the email.

“I was in the office with my coworker, and we were like, ‘Oh, this is a good chunk of money for just a photoshoot,’” Hoang said. “And also, I think this campus needs a lot more diversity, and as a student of color, it’s a good chance to participate in this with my friends and also to show the diversity.”

Hoang went to click on the Google Form in the email that was just sent to her but it was no longer collecting answers. Hoang asked her supervisors to inform the Summer Term office of the link, but never got the opportunity to sign up.

Salgado, on the other hand, was able to access the Google Form. She and her coworker completed the application, which required them to submit their name and year in school, along with a picture of themselves.

“We both put pictures that were very cultural to our backgrounds so they could choose us,” Salgado said. “So, my friend had cultural attire and I had my hoops, long nails and a shaved head. I had told my coworker — jokingly — if you get selected in the photoshoot and I don’t, it will be racism. And we were just laughing about it.”

A couple days later, Salgado’s coworker received an invitation to participate in the photoshoot sessions, while her email remained empty.

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Shortly after the photoshoot took place, Salgaldo spoke to two of her friends who were involved about their experience. She learned that the other individuals in the photoshoot — other than her two friends — were not UW students, but paid actors from agencies in Chicago and Milwaukee.

The actors in the image Salgado saw included predominantly people of color.

“I thought it was misleading, I thought it was tokenizing,” Salgado said. “I thought the university should have been honest with that Google Form — to not ask for pictures — and truthfully reflect [what the] campus looks like. Campus does have spots where students of color feel safe to hang out, and there’s communities out there. But it’s not to the extent that they had it in this picture.”

The goal when advertising is to always use current students in photos, marketing director for the Division of Continuing Studies Angela Rockwell said in an email statement to The Badger Herald. According to Rockwell, six students were invited to participate out of 11 total survey respondents.

“Based on availability and the number of students needed for a particular photoshoot we, at times, need to supplement with non-UW-Madison students,” Rockwell said in the email. “It’s a goal of UW-Madison to enroll a broad range of students in our programs and it’s also the university’s goal to reflect representation in its marketing materials.”

Both Salgado and Hoang learned about the photoshoot in August, but they were told the Summer Term office began promoting the roles much earlier, Salgado said.

The office should’ve ensured everyone had access to the link, Salgado said, as well as advertised the opportunity better. Salgado and Hoang learned about the photoshoot from their jobs, not through posters or word of mouth on campus.

Salgado said the way UW advertises, utilizes and talks about diversity is very transactional in her experience. In general, diversity looks good, Salgado said. It makes other students want to come to the university and it adds to the conversation.

“I never saw it with the intention to actually truly represent, make people feel seen, make people feel safe,” Salgado said.

The university does not provide enough resources for students of color, Salgado said. Rather, the university offers a “performative role,” which Hoang agreed with.

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Even with students of color constantly advocating to change the campus, the university does little to actively give to communities, Salgado said. Currently, 476 students have signed a petition to prevent two Indigenous homes on campus — MEChA and Wunk Sheek — from being torn down for parking lots.

“These are all things that students of color actively know that [are] a reminder that we’re not welcome here for who we are,” Salgado said. “We are more welcome here because of what we get to provide as an image, tokenization, as an asset — so they are the drop of diversity, they’ll bring a different perspective into the conversation. Which [this] may be true a lot of times, but why do we have to [pay] to go to an institution for us to educate people?”

Results from the 2021 Campus Climate Survey demonstrate that historically underrepresented groups report less-positive experiences on campus.

Additionally, The Color of Drinking, an exploratory study at UW, investigated the impact of alcohol culture on students of color. The results found that nearly 62% of students of color experience microaggressions, while Black students consider leaving UW at three times the rate of white students, often citing the racial climate as the number one reason.

Over and over again, Salgado said, these surveys explain how students of color feel isolated, tokenized and unsupported, while the data reflects how UW stands in diversity.

Moving forward, Salgado said she hopes the university takes more accountability.

“[They should] acknowledge it, communicate to campus how they have messed up and do better for the future in ensuring that misrepresentation and misleading photo admission are not targeted towards seeing students as assets and from a transactional point,” Salgado said.

Editor’s Note: This article’s subhead was updated to reflect that only two UW students were shown in a photo that was circulated among student sources, while six UW students were involved in the photoshoot as a whole.

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