UW looks to address racial climate with new program

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University of Wisconsin-Madison officials hope providing workshop training for incoming students will help to improve racial climate on campus.

The new training comes after a number of hate crimes and racial incidents on campus last school year.

“We want things to be better. We are not going to be afraid to engage in conversations in incidents that may have happened here and accept them as just the way things are,” said Joshua Moon Johnson, assistant to the dean of students.

Johnson oversaw the development of the pilot program, called “Our Wisconsin.”

One thousand incoming freshman will participate in two, 2 1/2-hour workshops focused on learning about other cultures and experiences, conflict resolution, and activities that teach how to detect discrimination and bias.

Faculty members plan to survey students to determine the effectiveness of the program. From there they will decide whether or not to continue with the workshops or try a different approach.

“There’s a thing that I have experienced myself. I have been a victim of hate crimes and I have been hospitalized for hate crimes in communities, so when these reports come in this is real and these students are effected from this,” Johnson said.

Workshops will include games and activities, group discussions and one-on-one conversations in an attempt to show students how their backgrounds and experiences have shaped their own actions and perceptions. The program was developed in a joint effort with students, faculty and staff.

The efforts come with some criticism from graduate student Michael Davis, who was at the forefront of a protest last school year.

“There’s no mention of racism, oppression, privilege they use these euphemisms within the curriculum that totally undermines the issue at hand,” Davis said.

Protest led by Davis last semester, pushed for community and student control of decisions that would promote change at the university.

“There’s no institutional change happening. Materially, maybe organizationally and structurally we will see different things happen to satisfy and pacify people, but I think these issues will continue to exist,” he said.

According to the university, change won’t happen overnight. However, their goal is to make improvements one step at a time.

“One program is not going to drastically shift a whole society. But it’s a starting point and we do see that this will open up conversations, this will spur interest to interact with people different from themselves,” Johnson said.