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Ad-hoc study group will recommend ways to improve the Black experience at UW–Madison

September 19, 2023 By Doug Erickson

At the direction of Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin, an ad-hoc group will study the Black experience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and recommend steps the campus community could take to positively impact that experience.

“Black students, faculty and staff at UW–Madison have long experienced a campus climate and environment that can, at times, meaningfully inhibit a sense of belonging and the ability to flourish,” Mnookin says. “Most recently, a video on social media last spring in which a UW–Madison student used vile, racist language had a significant and harmful impact on our Black campus community and beyond. While we have, over recent years, spearheaded a variety of efforts to support underrepresented minority members of our campus community, we recognize we still have much work to do.”

The Ad-Hoc Study Group on the Black Community Experience on the UW–Madison Campus, which began meeting Aug. 24, is composed of UW–Madison students, staff and faculty, as well as members of the community.

“We know that this study group grows out of incredible actions taken by Black students at the closure of the last semester,” says senior Kaleb Autman, a member of the ad-hoc study group and a founding member of the Blk Pwr Coalition, which formed last spring. “These students not only declared that racism has no place at their university but demanded that UW take actionable steps to ensure their safety and success. It is my greatest hope that the recommendations put forth by this study group are grounded in data and the historic record and are focused toward our collective future. To be effective, this group must heed the Chancellor’s advice for solutions that are experimental, concrete, tangible, and responsive to the material conditions and culture of our university.”

The study group is co-chaired by Angela Byars-Winston — a professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine within the Department of Medicine and the inaugural chair of the University of Wisconsin Institute for Diversity Science — and the Rev. Alex Gee, founder of the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, president and founder of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and lead pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Madison.

The study group is charged with:

  • Reviewing relevant data regarding UW–Madison’s Black community and historical information about both UW–Madison’s challenges with incidents affecting the Black community experience on campus and UW–Madison’s efforts to address those challenges, including progress in response to demands made over the years, and programs to support the success of underrepresented minority students.
  • Advising on steps that UW–Madison could take, in light of its legal obligations as a public institution, to positively impact the Black community experience on campus, including both potential campus efforts as well as specific recommendations for engagement and coordination with community groups and initiatives.

Along with co-chairs Byars-Winston and Gee, the following are members of the Ad-Hoc Study Group on the Black Community Experience on the UW–Madison Campus:

  • Ray Allen, community member, president, Specialized Business Services
  • Kaleb Autman, student, operations officer, Blk Pwr Coalition
  • Michelle Behnke, community member, Michelle Behnke & Associates
  • Amaya Boman, student, Grant Allocation Committee chair, Associated Students of Madison
  • LaVar J. Charleston, deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, vice provost and chief diversity officer, and the Elzie Higginbottom Director of the Division of Diversity, Equity, & Educational Achievement (ex-officio, non-voting)
  • Karla Foster, director of student and recent graduate engagement, Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association
  • Jerome Garrett, academic staff, chief administrative officer, Family Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health
  • Devin Henry, graduate student, educational leadership and policy analysis
  • Jennifer Horace, academic staff, assistant director of bias response, Student Affairs
  • Spring Sherrod, university staff, department manager, English Department
  • Michael States, academic staff, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, Law School
  • Christopher Walker, director, Division of the Arts
  • Anjalé Welton, professor, chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, School of Education

Torsheika Maddox, senior operations officer and chief of staff for the Division of Diversity, Equity, & Educational Achievement, will serve as staff support for the study group.

The study group will meet over the fall semester, with the goal of reporting back to the chancellor by the beginning of the spring semester, in late January 2024.