The student government association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently voted to double the ethnic studies requirement, claiming there has been an increase in “bias” and “hate” incidents on campus.
The College Fix reported that the Associated Students of Madison voted unanimously to increase the ethnic studies requirement from three credits to six credits in order to graduate.
“UW-Madison is responsible for providing students with the knowledge to become more understanding and empathetic individuals,” committee leaders said in a press release after the vote, according to the Fix. “Increasing the Ethnic Studies Requirement is a way to combat current systemic racism and encourage a dialogue around its history.”
The resolution passed by the ASM is non-binding, as official changes to graduation requirements are made through the faculty General Education Committee. That committee includes student representation, and given the level of deference given to issues of race and gender on college campuses, it is possible the GEC could agree to increase the ethnic studies requirement.
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According to their resolution, ASM said students of color “often feel excluded and unsafe on campus and experience exclusion, microaggressions, and/or blunt racism during their college career at UW-Madison.”
As evidence, the group cited several incidents on campus, including a 2019 controversy in which the school issued a homecoming video with very few students of color featured in it. They also pointed to an incident in 2020 when campus sidewalk chalk messages blamed the coronavirus on the Chinese government.
The resolution also cites an incident from 21 years ago in which a black student was photoshopped onto a student admissions brochure. The students say this two-decade-old controversy is evidence “BIPOC students on campus are often used as ‘diversity advertisements.’”
In an email to the Fix, UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone acknowledged student disenfranchisement.
“UW–Madison recognizes that many students of color and other marginalized students do not experience as positive a campus climate as majority students, both in and outside the classroom,” she told the outlet. “We’re committed to changing that.”
“We also embrace the responsibility of helping students become knowledgeable, engaged, empathetic citizens,” McGlone added. “Ethnic studies courses are one important tool to meeting that responsibility and equipping our students to help lead positive change.”
McGlone also told the outlet that changing graduation requirements wasn’t so simple.
“Consideration of changes to gen ed requirements, including the ethnic studies requirement, involves a range of factors, including clear articulation of learning goals for the requirement, availability of/access to sufficient course offerings in a variety of disciplines for students to complete the requirement, and potential impact upon progress to degree,” she told the Fix.
The Fix noted that students increased reports to the school’s bias reporting website, yet only 30 reports were filed during the Fall 2020 semester, down from 110 in the Spring. Nearly one-quarter of the reports filed in the spring came from the chalking incident in which sidewalk messages blamed the Chinese government for the coronavirus.