Campus diversity initiatives: Effort is there, but results are not

· Mar 23, 2015 Tweet

The Red Gym is the home of the Multicultural Student Center. Such a center was one of six recommendations from UW's first diversity initiative.
Jeff Miller/UW Communications

The University of Wisconsin is a campus where racial slurs and prejudices permeate Yik Yak, the UW-Madison Confessions Facebook page circulates vicious and cruel posts about the circumstances of Tony Robinson’s death and microaggressions constantly remind students of color of the rampant ignorance and sometimes unbridled racism of their peers.

It’s no secret UW is a predominantly white campus. Look at any classroom — it’s common to look around and see only one or two students of color. This lack of diversity has been extremely detrimental to student life on campus, not only for students who feel underrepresented, but also for white students who are left ignorant and uneducated (despite a 3-credit ethnic studies requirement).

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Initially, I began with the intention to soundly roast UW’s diversity initiatives. Armed with my frustration, I was prepared to call the Office of the Vice Provost on Diversity and Climate and demand what progress had been made with their lengthy, complex resolutions that, as of yet, have not seemed to make waves of any kind in a long-stagnant sea of overwhelming whiteness.

Thirteen percent of students and 17.6 percent of faculty at UW are ethnic minorities. These facts seem to suggest to me the university had, until recently, not taken diversity seriously. After looking into the university’s history of diversity initiatives, however, I realized that despite their lack of progress, UW has not been idle.

I can’t commend them for their success, but I also cannot condemn them for what I thought was an apathetic and ignorant attitude toward minority experiences on campus. Only just recently looking at UW’s diversity initiatives in-depth, I cannot justly present my outright criticisms of their effectiveness. I can break down Madison’s history of diversity initiatives to begin determining if Madison’s most recent efforts can bring about substantial progress in diversity.

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The first serious diversity plan was the Holley Report, created in 1987 due largely to the student protests of the 1960s and onward. Next came the Madison Plan of 1988, which resulted in a four percent increase in faculty of color and a six percent increase in women faculty members over a ten year span. However, it was criticized for an “assimilationist perspective.”

Plan 2008 was drafted in 1998 as a new ten year plan striving to establish an inclusive and diverse academic environment. It was not successful in its goal to significantly reduce the gap in the graduation rates between majority and minority students by 2008.

Looking at statistics from 2004 to 2008 alone, four-year graduation rates of the “targeted minority groups” increased from 27.2 percent to 33.8 percent, with white student four-year graduation rates increasing from 53.8 percent to 59 percent. Minimal progress did occur. However, the statistics demonstrate the gap did not decrease as desired.

This brings us to the current initiative, the Diversity Framework. An offshoot of a 2013 plan to address historically low percentages of underrepresented demographics among UW faculty and staff, the Office of the Vice Provost on Diversity and Climate engaged in “long-term activities designed to create an ‘OVPDC’ divisional identity, culture, mission, vision, plan, principles of practice.” From there, they completed a comprehensive Diversity Framework in 2014, titled “Forward Together” that extensively delineates 30 recommendations to be executed in the next ten years.

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I applaud the Diversity Framework in their determined initiative to tackle such a prevalent, deeply-rooted issue in our campus. Their drafted plan is extensive and the recommendations made to ensure greater diversity and a more inclusive climate on campus have the ambition necessary to enact great change. The effort is there. The evidence of planning, strategizing and discussing how to make UW a university where all students can excel is present and accessible through the Framework’s thirty detailed recommendations.

However, we need tangible evidence that progress is being made. Listening sessions for campus and community are a start. However, initiatives mean nothing without action, and they certainly mean even less for the marginalized students on campus who need inclusivity the most.

Megan Stefkovich ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in biology.


This article was published Mar 23, 2015 at 6:03 am and last updated Mar 23, 2015 at 9:09 pm


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