The University of Wisconsin Homecoming Committee posted a video Sept. 30 intended to generate excitement about the upcoming homecoming events. Instead, it incited massive backlash from the community due to its lack of racial diversity.
Several current and past students have expressed their disappointment at UW’s total disregard for the minority community. Current UW student Janiece Piolet succinctly described it, “The video is racist. Do better.”
Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor and others in the UW administration sent out an email to all UW students where they detailed “a number of efforts underway to improve campus climate.” This includes promises of more diversity training within all WAA-sponsored student organizations.
For me, this message is not comforting. It just raises more questions: is this enough? Why was it not implemented before?
Frankly, is it necessary?
The fact that 40+ people on the Homecoming Committee did not catch the glaring whiteness in the video is absurd, diversity training or not. The video just serves as a reminder of the longstanding, problematic relationship between UW and minorities. As a student of color myself, the video just proves that non-white students are not — and perhaps never have been — as welcome to the campus as majority whites have been.
Wisconsin is one of the only states to declare racism as a public health crisis. This is unsurprising for most students of color as many of us have had to face the reality of increasing rates of hate crimes in Wisconsin. With a less than 20% minority population, UW itself can be considered one of the least diverse schools in the country. The homecoming video is just another piece of evidence to the growing pile of racial exclusion in Wisconsin.
This video represents the never-ending struggles of being a minority, even in an urban city such as Madison. Forever underrepresented, always struggling to be a part of the larger community at Wisconsin.
Those who think the homecoming video is being blown out of proportion should know that this is not the first time Wisconsin has had mishaps with race representation. In 2001, UW photoshopped minorities into their booklet for the 2001-2002 academic year to make it seem more racially diverse. For a more recent example, last year, Dean of Students Lori Berquam claimed that there is not enough funding to establish cultural centers for minority students.
It’s things like this that make me question the idea of “Badger pride.” Should I be proud of a school that promises superficial changes to make it seem as though students of color have more representation than they do, all while refusing to implement any real change? Should I be proud of a school where a large portion of minorities feel unwelcome — even unsafe — on campus?
Diversity training and stricter oversight in releasing media, while a positive move by the UW administration, do not properly address why they happened in the first place. The fact remains that there is not enough being done to create a safe space for ethnic minorities on campus. These repeated issues within the UW system are a reminder of that.
I don’t speak for the minority community, but I can say there is a racial epidemic that both UW and Wisconsin overall faces. It’s time we start to take real, significant action against it so embarrassing incidents such as the Homecoming video never happen again.
Samiha Bhushan ([email protected]) is a freshman studying neurobiology and English literature.