UW-Madison students want to talk about race

Group wants more serious conversations, actions to improve racial inclusivity
UW-Madison students want to talk about race

A new photo campaign at the University of Wisconsin-Madison features students calling for serious conversations about racial inclusivity on campus.

The “I, too, am UW-Madison” Tumblr site was started by the school’s Asian American Student Union, namely by member Claire Zhuang.

Zhuang acknowledged talking about race is hard, but the Chinese American from Appleton and her student group want to talk about it.

“To show that sometimes these things that are being said really hurt people and affect their days and affect how we see ourselves,” said Zhuang when asked about what the purpose of the site was.

The campaign has been in the works for roughly two weeks and stemmed from a similar one at Harvard called “I, too, am Harvard.” Their campaign highlighted the faces and voices of black students.

The Madison project includes photographs of students holding up an assumption or question they have experienced or observed on campus.

Some of the messages include: “Welcome to America! – Someone on State Street” and “I don’t need to be an athlete to be here as a black man from Brooklyn, New York.”

“Sometimes it’s angering because it feels like people aren’t letting us define ourselves,” Zhuang said.

Zhuang shared a personal experience she had during a late night walk home from the library. She said she was approached by two male students who appeared to be intoxicated. Zhuang said when she turned down their advances to engage in conversation she was surprised to hear what came next.

“One of the guys kind of gets mad and he yells, ‘Oh I bet your name is Ling Ching or something like that,’ How do you respond to something like that? But it made me feel quite unwelcomed,” Zhuang said.

Ruth Litovsky, a professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders, College of Letters and Science and a member of UW-Madison’s Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee, said the campaign reflects a campus that has its strengths and areas where it needs to improve.

One of those areas is the climate and culture as it relates to students, faculty, staff and the sense community members have when they walk on campus.

She said they know there is an issue on campus and in the city of Madison.

Litovsky emphasized an important part in addressing the issue it to take create opportunities for people to engage in difficult discussion.

“If we can create a safe space to have the conversations then people can see this is really about everybody. This is not about individuals or small groups it’s about the entire campus,” Litvosky said.

More serious conversations and actions to improve racial inclusivity is what Zhuang wants.

The Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee will hold open discussion sessions about race and diversity next month on and off campus.