Student Voices Naming and Re-Claiming Diversity

As a group, as a community, as a collective we can achieve diversity. This means solidifying an understanding of what diversity is. It is climate. It is creating and fostering an environment where all voices and all people are welcome for who they are. Devon Hamilton, a student at UW, wrote about the importance of climate, or the environment we foster, just earlier this month. It is important to nurture a world we want to see. Students have been responding in a number of ways to various matters of diversity, including responses to attacks on affirmative action.

(WBSU response to the Not Fair campaign)

The “unfairness” being addressed in this campaign is tied to a misguided notion that somehow, in an aim for diversity, students of color have taken spots at the university that were “meant” for white students. That point becomes entirely moot when the facts are laid out: according to UW-Madison’s registrar, in the Fall 2013 UW-Madison saw an enrollment of 43275 students, 31036 were categorized as Caucasian.

At this Fall’s convocation the chancellor said that this year’s incoming freshman class was the most diverse that the university has seen. Diversity is more than numbers. How do we foster an environment where students feel proud to be at this university? Where they dream of contributing to the growth of Madison rather than escaping to a better place? These are questions I’ve asked myself in this first year. The existence of the “I Too Am UW” campaign is a way for marginalized students to assert our place and right to the title of Badger.

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(Images courtesy of I, too, am UW-Madison’s Tumblr page.)

Last week, after a meeting hosted by Professor Richard Davis and Vice-Provost Patrick Simms at the School of Music, where a number of students spoke on their experiences surrounding diversity, a graduate from the school put the matter into perfect perspective for me. She said, “Diversity is not a person. A person is not diverse. You are not diverse. I am not diverse. WE are diverse.”

One of the latest issues is the potential consolidation of the Afro-American Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Chican@/Latin@ Studies departments into one ethnic studies program and there will be an open and free event to ” clarify current developments in Ethnic Studies at the UW-Madison and provide an opportunity for participants to offer their insights on future planning.” 

The combination of voices, the articles written, the panels and meetings attended, the questions asked and the demands made will all contribute to diversity on this campus. Diversity is not vague and unattainable, it is a possibility much closer than many have taken the time to imagine. We don’t have to wait 5 or 10 years to improve the experiences of all Badgers. Let’s begin today.

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