April 08, 2014
The recently approved Regent Policy Document 14-6, “Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation,” raises troubling questions as UW-Madison formulates its new minority plan, “Forward Together: UW Madison’s Framework for Diversity and Exclusive Excellence.”
The focus of 14-6 on individual discriminatory behavior ignores institutional discriminatory behavior, what is often called “institutional racism.” Here are some examples;
Shouldn’t continued use of the label “targeted” minority students be viewed in the language of this new policy as a form of either “Discrimination” or “Discriminatory Harassment,” or perhaps both?
Does labeling minority students as “targeted” interfere with their “academic environment” and “create . . . a learning . . . environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating”?
Is the labeling of “targeted” minority students consistent with the UW System goal of “fostering an environment of respect for the dignity and worth of all members of the university”?
This widely used “targeted” label highlights the fact that some fraction—as many as a quarter—of “targeted” minority students—African American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino, and Southeast Asian—are regularly admitted under UW-Madison’s “selective” or “holistic” rather than the “competitive” admission standard applied to most applicants.
The “targeted” label applied to minority students, both as individuals and members of their respective racial, ethnic, and national origin groups, indicates they are viewed by the campus administration as somehow “different” from the rest of the student body rather than as the individual students they are.
The numerous Minority and Disadvantaged Student programs— approximately 60 of them here at UW-Madison—designed primarily to accommodate the “selectively” admitted “targeted” minority students send a signal to the entire student body, that these students require special academic and other help not available to non-targeted students.
Finally, the “targeted” label carries unfortunate connotations that have no justification in the lexicon of campus mission statements, strategic plans, diversity “frameworks,” and the like.
What can be done to reshape our collective thinking on diversity? Unfortunately, diversity is an article of faith among top System officials and UW-Madison campus leaders. As a condition of their appointment, they are required to demonstrate a “personal commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion” Is such a test appropriate to the central mission of the university?
The obvious solution for the University of Wisconsin is to reaffirm the traditional concept of academic excellence in all aspects of campus life. This can be accomplished by treating all applicants in the same way, admitting them on the basis of an admission standard in which race, ethnicity, and national origin play no role.
It also means eliminating the double standard. Discrimination and harassment by students and staff is prohibited. Yet institutional racism continues. It does so because the UW System ignores its own prohibition against discrimination. This is exemplified by the way it labels “targeted” minority students, the very students it seeks to help.
Simply acknowledging that the University of Wisconsin practices the very discriminatory behavior it prohibits students and staff from engaging in will be a real test of character for the Regents, UW System officials, and UW-Madison campus leaders.
Even more difficult will be eliminating its racist behavior. Doing so will require the kind of courage few university leaders possess, here or elsewhere across the nation.