By: Kelsey O’Hara
In recent months, diversity advocates expressed concerns about the UW System’s approaches in improving the experiences of minority students and Wisconsin’s educational disparity between white and black students.
Members of the UW administration recognized the need for overall improvement in students’ experiences and the achievement gaps separating students of color from white students.
The administration remains committed to modelling inclusive behaviors through programs and services offered on UW campuses.
UW System President Ray Cross met with the United Council of Students late last month, and discussed the criticisms and challenges faced by minority students.
“It troubles me,” Cross said in a statement. “And that’s why I’m glad all of us in the UW System continue to work on important, very tangible action items to ultimately improve the experiences of all students, staff and faculty members. Can we and should we do more? Yes, and I have asked the students to help us in that effort.”
Cross said faculty members across the UW system want to open the dialogue for minority students to discuss challenges that stem from educational disparities and injustices within society.
“We need to remember that many UW System students of color at the institutions throughout our state have not had the time or space or platform to share their experiences, be they good or bad,” Cross said. “We need to listen to their issues carefully and thoughtfully.”
Faculty on the UW-Madison campus are proactive about recruiting and retaining a diverse student body through programs that forward working across differences.
Aaron Bird Bear, UW-Madison’s Interim Assistant Dean for student diversity programs, said UW institutions understand the lack of opportunities for certain groups of students and therefore use programs like POSSE or First Wave to deal with educational inequality.
“Equity has to acknowledge the differentials in opportunities for success that people have been born into,” Bird Bear said. “Equity is the focus of how we trying to figure out how to continue support and sustain diversity at the institution.”
According to the Academic Planning Institutional Research office, there is a significant difference between Wisconsin’s non-minority and minority high school graduates in “preparedness” for UW-Madison courses.
In 2010, 25 percent of white high school graduates fit the “well-prepared” category, while only 2 percent of black graduates were well-prepared, according to the APIR pipeline update.
Despite racial disparities among students, diversity programs offer pre-college, undergraduate and graduate programs to help underrepresented students connect with faculty and other peers to build a network of support.
Bird Bear acknowledged the upcoming social movement from the eroding race relations in the United States.
He said it is important to focus on commonalities instead of differences as the administration continues to improve the experience of minority students on campus.
“Students of color, without expressing that they’re dissatisfied with the relationships and experiences they are having, are humans within our community,” Bird Bear said. “And one of our roles [as faculty] is to make sure students feel supported.”