UW 8th Annual Diversity Plan 2008 Campus Forums
Diversity: Engagement, Resistance, Change
Part 2 of 2
By Heidi M. Pascual
     As part of Plan 2008, the UW holds an annual Diversity Plan 2008 Campus Forum as a way to assess the status of Plan 2008, what areas have succeeded, and what need improvement. The forum offers simultaneous or repeat discussions to get feedback from the staff, the students, the faculty, and the community as to 'where to go from here.' This year's day-long event was held on September 28 at the Memorial Union. As expected, there was an exhibit showing the university's best practices, aptly described as "A Resource for Creating Community at UW-Madison." It included not only the PEOPLE program exhibit, but others such as the Office for Equity and Diversity's Learning Communities (within-UW, safe and respectful environments to engage in sustained dialogue within a diverse group of staff/faculty members for the purpose of building inclusive curricula and classrooms as one goal) and SEED, a social justice seminar for students to share their experiences/differences; as well as the Cultural Linguistic Services-OHRD's "Bridging Cross-Cultural Communication" program based on language, cultural sensitivity and technological resources.
In last month's issue, Asian Wisconzine featured interview remarks from UW Chancellor John Wiley and Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Bernice Durand, as well as highlights from the keynote speech of Dr. Jane Hamilton Merritt.
      Several other activities happened during the day, including a report, a spoken word performance, and awards during lunch on "Learning Community, Learning Self: Personal Transformations," hosted by Sharad Chandarana of the Division of Continuing Studies, and thereafter, concurrent sessions and repeated sessions on the theme of diversity.
      This last installment will focus on a discussion titled "2008 and Beyond," with participants generally voicing their sentiments on current diversity efforts by UW-Madison.
UW Chancellor John Wiley's opening statements
Earlier in the days' opening program, UW Chancellor John Wiley said, "The theme (of this forum) is particularly thought provoking -- 'Diversity: engagement, resistance, and change.' That contains two actions: engagement and resistance, and one outcome word: change. I'd like to ask all of you to think about each of those words. Engagement: What kinds of engagements will help move us to some desired goal? What kinds of engagements might hinder us from reaching that goal? Resistance: What kinds of resistance are going to slow it down and make it harder to achieve whatever goals we will set up for ourselves? What kinds of resistance might actually be beneficial and unite as well? Change: There's always some resistance to change; but now our change is for the better, and so what kinds of things do we need to change? By how much? What kinds of change do we need to continue doing? All of these words can be viewed in both negative and positive light, and we need to begin thinking about the whole together. Speaking of change, I want to call your attention to (our) major goals, one of which is improving diversity climate.
      "Look at the results and make up your own mind about whether we're making progress toward reaching our goals, whether the rate of progress is fast enough, what we can do to improve it, and what you can personally do to help.
      "This forum is an opportunity for us to come together as a community, take stock of where we are, think about where we should be, how we are going to get there, and so on." His remarks gave the impression that most members, if not the whole university community, were there to participate in the forums.
      Some university community members believed this wasn't the case.
2008 and Beyond forum
"I like the idea of getting people together," Tina Yao said while participating in the '2008 and Beyond' forum at the Inn Wisconsin room, "but everyone in the campus must be here!" Someone in the audience suggested that the university not hold classes to ensure the students' attendance in the event.
      Vice Provost Bernice Durand acknowledged the need for everyone to be involved and not just during annual forums. "We've done listening sessions," Durand said. "These are continuing sessions. And this is not 'one-shot' and it is important to have a follow-through."
      A man agreed but said that there are few opportunities to have sustained dialogue. "It is very frustrating when we have to tell the same stories every year," he pointedly said.
      While a graduate student and an undergraduate student complained about not being included in the forums/dialogues because they had to be in class, Dr. Gloria Hawkins, for her part, suggested that the university look at the needs of students. "Learning communities have been in existence for sometime," she observed. "But they must be developed with the needs of the students in mind and they must be part of the institution."
      When someone in the audience asked, "What do students of color want?" Durand responded, "Respect." Provost Pat Farrell quickly added, "Recognition in some sense, the notion of the overall contribution of their culture in the campus, sense of respect, more equalizing ..."
      A woman observed that one of the key indicators in the diversity issue is how White folks participate, while Fred Coleman suggested that every student's story must be told and heard. "People should come together in a room and ask one another, 'What's your story?'" Coleman said. "This would allow everybody to have a name."
      A man named  Martin, however, said that not every one wants to share his/her stories. "Why not bring people together by common cause, like conservation efforts such as picking up trash?"
      Phyllis, an African American student, said that she always felt like the odd ball out. "I feel isolated," she stressed. "I want to feel part of a community, and I don't want to be treated differently."
      A man named Matthew asked, "What's the point of diversity if we're not allowing integration?" He added that students of color band together; in the classes, in the library, and at other places in the university. "Ethnicity isn't race -- Don't alienate minority students for their own comfort," he suggested.
      Somebody explained that being more inclusive is the essence of a successful diversity climate. "But policies are restrictive and prohibitive," he said.
      Martin said he's disappointed that the university spent money for a new hockey rink instead of funding scholarhips. "Our students have increasingly become middle class," he said. "It will be a huge goal if we divert those dollars to help others come here."
      Another participant named Gretchen observed, "People don't talk to each other. We must be friendlier. There's not enough friendliness in this campus!"
      In response, Durand reported that after their continuing conversations, they decided to do something, little things such as to greet people 'Good morning.'
      Such good-intentioned actions, however, according to some participants, have not trickled to the rest of the university community, nor have they gone beyond the 'greeting' stage. To solve this, Renee Alfano recommended training student employees in soft skills such as customer service and learning to be respectful of others.
      Hawkins summed it all up nicely. "We work hard here in this campus," she said. "When do we have time to meet together? We used to have second Thursdays at different venues all over the campus. There we meet people that we don't ordinarily see. In those meetings, friendships are made. They strengthen collegial relationships across disciplines. Let's be more creative in the way we can integrate."
Plan 2008 has accomplished some good things, starting with the PEOPLE (Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) that has been successful at preparing minority and disadvantaged youth for college through a continuous pipeline design; and other efforts at "Creating Community" within the university. With a few months left at the end of Plan 2008, UW is perhaps heading towards the next-level Plan, now that it is armed with a clearer vision from feedback gathered every year at the annual diversity forums and from small circles of diversity discussants throughout the campus. By the next couple years, we hope that "changes for the better" have been internalized by all and implemented successfully. By then, the diversity climate should have improved, if everyone cooperates.
(Above) UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley; (Below) the Hmong Exhibit featured Hmong quilts
Vice Provost for Diversity Climate Bernice Durand
      In May 1998, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System unanimously adopted "Plan 2008" whose goals included increasing the number of Wisconsin high school graduates of color who apply, are accepted, and enroll at UW System institutions; encouraging partnerships that build the educational pipeline starting at an early age; closing the gap in educational achievement by bringing retention and graduation rates for students of color; increasing financial aid to needy students and reducing their reliance on loans; increasing the number of faculty, academic staff, classified staff and administrators of color; and fostering institutional environments and course development that enhance learning and a respect for racial and ethnic diversity.
      Probably the most visible and successful program within Plan 2008 that answers its first two goals is PEOPLE (Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence), an innovative program that prepares minority and disadvantaged youth for college from as early as second grade in after-school enrichment and campus visits to the college undergraduate level.
In response to the other goals, the UW initiated several programs including, but not limited to, partnerships with community organizations and local schools in the hope of improving the "diversity" climate of the university. On-campus initiatives were likewise made stronger through the years under the leadership of Bernice Durand, the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate.
December 2007 Issue