You may have seen #TheRealUW hashtag trending on social media or on signs around campus at some point or another. If you don’t know what this hashtag is trying to bring to light, I’m here to educate you. If you do know about this campaign, I want you to continue reading and make this issue your own.
Students have applied this hashtag to social media posts when sharing their personal experiences they have with racism, religious bigotry, and homophobia on UW’s campus. #TheRealUW hashtag has been around for a while, but it was recently restored as a trending topic on social media after a string of racist events occurred at the beginning of the semester. The main goal of this campaign is to bring awareness and create public dialogues regarding the harsh reality of race relations at UW.
In January, a UW-Madison student was disciplined after taping photos of swastikas and Hitler on a Jewish student’s dorm room door.
In early March, three students at another dorm disrupted a ceremony for Native American victims of sexual assault by heckling a Ho-Chunk elder with stereotypical “war cry” noises, according to witnesses.
On March 12, a student was charged with disorderly conduct after he pushed and spat on a group of African American students saying they were “poor and here on scholarship.”
UW-Madison police began an investigation in late March regarding graffiti found on the wall of an academic building displaying a hanging figure and a racial slur.
Most recently, a student woke up to this threatening note slipped under her door.
And these are just a few. This is not the UW I know and love. I am personally ashamed and angry knowing how negative and traumatic these experiences have been for my fellow students who deserve to be here just as much as I do. Every single person on this campus has the right to feel safe and the right to an education, regardless of race, religion, or sexuality. The heartbreaking truth about this problem is that it isn’t only happening at UW.
UW freshman and POSSE Scholar Zawadi Carroll said, “My friends on other campuses are experiencing the same things. There needs to be forced accountability and everyone has to make this their own issue.”
So let’s do exactly that. For starters, we need to stop asking naïve questions like, “It’s 2016, how can something like this still be happening?” I can tell you exactly how it happens. There is a lack of education and especially a lack of conversation surrounding race relations, especially on our campus. Or if there are conversations occurring, they are taking place within these marginalized groups who are not the ones who need to be enlightening themselves on this issue in the first place.
From the very beginning of our education, we are taught in a restricted manner about a lot of our history. For instance, we are told that the women’s suffrage movement made men and women political and societal equals starting in 1920 when women were give the right vote. We are also told that Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the Civil Rights Movement made the incongruities in the treatment of blacks and whites disappear. You and I both know this is far from our current reality.
Conversations about racial tensions are unfortunately viewed as a taboo subject in our society, especially within the white community. Nobody wants to offend someone or phrase something the wrong way to make the problem worse. We hear about incidents of horrible racism and have empathy, but we don’t feel it is a problem that is directly related to our existence or we feel that as an individual, we can’t make a difference. But we as a community at UW must acknowledge that this issue is a parasite that will not wane until EVERYONE starts talking and taking action, not just those who are victims of these racially motivated hate incidents.
Carroll agrees, saying, “I would like my white peers to educate within their own spaces, too. It would be a lot more helpful if white student allies confronted their white community on issues concerning race and racism as opposed to having students of color constantly educate, and put themselves in potentially dangerous spaces. This can also help to avoid cross-cultural miscommunication.”
Carroll acknowledges that these types of intense hate crimes may not happen on our campus, but refers to her day-to-day experiences as a series of microaggressions. Microagression is a term coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans.
“Racism is usually perpetuated in ways that aren’t necessarily direct. I am sometimes deliberately ignored in group projects with my white peers. People will comment on how well I speak English and ask me where I’m from thinking I’ll answer them with a foreign country. I’m from Washington, D.C.,” Carroll said.
In response to these escalated incidents of racism and religious prejudice, UW administration took to the issue in the best way they know how: a campus-wide email saying they do not condone such hateful actions.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a letter on March 15th proposing her ideas to improve campus climate, some of them including pilot sessions for incoming students starting in Fall 2016 and campus-wide symposiums for students to attend. It is encouraging to see the administration making progress and having a sense of urgency, but the problem I have is that is took this long for their responsiveness.
“The much needed attention on this issue is long overdue. People think students of color are just experiencing these things now. The faculty here needs to be more educated on, and honest about, not only on what’s going on now, but in the history of this university,” Carroll said. “Vel Phillips was the first black woman to graduate from UW’s Law School in 1951. She dealt with almost the exact same things then as Badgers of color are dealing with now.”
Another example of an administrative response is the video posted by Vice Provost of Diversity and Climate Patrick Sims. He speaks about the racist note slid under the dorm room door of a student pictured above.
“It’s a good thing that something is being said from the administration. But I was a bit disappointed upon seeing the video because I felt he was telling students of color ‘this is what you need to do to fix your oppression rather than creating a dialogue inclusive of all students. The video just proved that there is a large disconnect between the administration and students of color,” Carroll said.
We seem to be stuck in a mundane, recurrent series of events. Someone with racist, homophobic, or religiously intolerant views commits a detestable act. The administration finds out about the incident and immediately sends an email out to the student body that almost seems copy and pasted at this point. We all get invited to an open session to talk about our campus climate and how we can make it better. The small portion of the student body that attended feel good about that fact that they talked to someone about what happened. We sit and wait for the next incident to occur.
These incidents uncovered by #TheRealUW are jeopardizing the right, and even the desire, for some student’s to receive that education every one of us deserves. The administrative programs in the works will only do so much. As fellow students, we are all accountable for creating and maintaining an environment for everyone to feel safe and accepted, not just the administration. Things won’t change overnight and there is clearly a lot to be done, but we can begin by holding each other responsible for our words and actions.
You can speak with those affected by these cases and hear their personal stories at #TheRealUW One Day Exhibition next Friday, April 22 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art.
Listen, engage, and act accordingly. Hold your peers accountable for microaggressions or racially insensitive comments. We all have the power to incite this change, and its time we utilize it.