Wait, you’re telling me the school year isn’t over? All of this for one measly mess of a semester?
I need a nap.
The last four months have tested nearly every student on campus, but not with scantrons or discussion posts. Instead, as the nation and the world has grappled with the unearthing of problems that have been left unaddressed for decades, even centuries, University of Wisconsin students have felt the same pressure squeezing down on their shoulders.
Through it all, administration and faculty have had moments of inexcusable weakness, and moments of showing enormous potential for growth.
Take Alec Cook, resident serial rapist. On Oct. 17, Cook’s life as he knew it came to an abrupt halt when one intensely brave woman came forward to accuse him of sexual assault. In the days following, four additional women joined her, and Cook quickly racked up north of a dozen criminal counts.
UW administration, relatively quick to respond, reassured students that Cook’s emergency suspension barred him from entering campus property. When the Division of Student Life assigned university leaders to aid in the case, rather than attempting to distance the university from his investigation, the administration sent a clear message of purpose, accountability and justice.
But by treating Cook as though he was the only rapist on campus, reacting to his arrest with such vigor while allowing WiscAlerts to pile up in inboxes without so much as a whisper, the administration undermines its very own efforts. Being reactionary is easy. When your school receives national attention for a spectacularly sickening sexual assault case, pushing emails through the press secretary about how supportive UW swears to be of any victim who comes forward requires little motivation.
What’s harder is refusing to slow down, even after the news cycle has moved on, pressing students to engage in dialogue, investing money and resources into programs for all of those victims who were never lucky enough to see their attacker’s mugshot on The New York Times. Some of whom are forced to see their rapist on the other side of the bed when they wake up every morning.
Being reactionary is easy. Being proactive is not. While UW has proved they can pull it together under pressure, this semester has proved the administration struggles to take the next step.
When two football fans showed up to the Nebraska game a few days after Cook’s arrest dressed as President Barack Obama in a prison jumpsuit with a noose cradling his neck, UW froze like a deer in headlights. In a shocking display of carelessness and incompetence, the university defended the costume as an act of free speech, prioritizing their commitment to an environment fostering freedom of expression above the personal safety of the hundreds of students who, as a result, felt even more marginalized and unsafe on campus than they had before.
An enraged student body passionately spoke out against this inexcusable, cold reaction. Eventually, Chancellor Rebecca Blank recalled the historical significance of feigning lynching the nation’s first Black president. She came to her senses and apologized to the university at a Faculty Senate meeting.
But Blank’s knee-jerk impulse to protect the institution before protecting the sheer thousands of students she oversees, and especially students of color, will not soon be forgotten.
A week later came Nov. 8. In the days following the election of a white nationalistic and world-renowned bigot, intolerance, anger and division gripped Americans — and UW students. Sixteen hate/bias incidents reported within days, paralleling the sudden surge in hate crimes across the country. Once again, save for one passive email encouraging us to “treat one another with respect,” students were left to grapple with their frustrations and renowned sense of isolation on their own.
Interspersed among these particularly memorable moments were what seems like dozens of small but significant mini-turning points: Eneale Pickett’s sweatshirt proclaiming “All white people are racist,” Memorial Union plastering #BLACKLIVESMATTER on their television screens and hundreds of students, arms interlocked, bracing the cold, chanting “my body, my choice.”
It’s worth commending UW on a seemingly increased commitment to reacting to concerns, frustrations, fears and lived experiences of their students. But again, reactionary is easy, and certainly not enough.
The underlying problems unearthed this semester will undoubtedly bleed into January. Hopefully, the administration will spend some time over winter break trying their hand at proactivity in preparation.
Yusra Murad ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in psychology and business.