As the assistant state superintendent for the division of school and student success at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Dawn Crim oversees assessments, school accountability, Title I funding, and pre-college supports for the state's public school students. Before transitioning to DPI, Crim spent over 20 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the assistant women's basketball coach and the associate dean of external relations.
Through her work, Crim encouraged the UW to connect with the greater Madison community and embodies that same spirit in her personal life. She volunteers with several Madison-based organizations, including Edgewood College and the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Can you talk a bit about some of the differences you’ve seen so far working in higher ed versus k-12?
I am now focused on what resources are available for K-12 education versus what resources (the university) has to offer to students coming out of K-12. What I like about (my role) is I am at a place where I get to understand what supports are necessary to get students into college. It’s nice to be on the front end versus the tail end. If you really look at the percentage of students that go to college, the funnel narrows. Right now, I am looking at working with and supporting students who need this basic right to matriculate. It is actually kind of cool (to see the continuum).
You are the president of the Madison Network of Black Professionals. How did you get involved with that organization and why is it so important for ‘The Network’ to exist in Madison?
Annette Miller had the idea almost 18 years ago now. A group of us came together and talked about how most of us were the one African-American in our workplace. We were looking to make connections with people that look like us, learn more about the community that we live in so we can contribute, and figure out how can we could take the next step to be promoted and move into leadership roles. Those were the foundations, but we also noticed that at about four to five years (into living in Madison) people that were new to the community moved away if they didn't make a connection. We saw our organization as a way to reach out to people. We wanted to help people make connections across industries while learning about the community so they can have a voice and an impact. (‘The Network’) has been growing, it has been strong. It’s a way to get connected and engaged. We really try to have support around the African-American community.
Do you have any suggestions for African-American professionals who are new to Madison who want to get involved in the community?
My biggest advice is to be open to what the community has to offer. There are a lot of jewels and gems here, but if you are expecting Madison to be like where you grew up or where you are moving from, especially if it is a major city, it’s not. It can be difficult to find places to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights. Madison is more of an “event” place. You are waiting for the next artist to come through or you are a part of the NAACP or the L.I.N.K.S. or a fraternity or sorority. There are a lot of good restaurants, beautiful parks and bike paths. You have to get out. Especially in the summer, there are festivals everywhere. Every little neighborhood park has a festival. My favorite is Dane Dances, I love the Monona Terrace rooftop. There is a lot to do, but it may not be the things that you are used to doing or with the people that you are used to doing it with.
You played basketball at the collegiate and professional level, as well as coached women’s basketball at UW-Madison. How do you feel about student athletes using the court or the field as a venue to advocate for causes they are passionate about?
People are passionate about many things, student-athletes just happen to have the spotlight. So if you think about the things Nigel Hayes talked about as a student, he was very vocal. He even wrote a letter when he graduated talking about life as a student-athlete. In that letter, he said,"‘Yes, I'm a student-athlete, but this is my journey." Sometimes when you're in the spotlight the fans feel like they have a say and that you have to act in a certain way. Student-athletes are role models, but they are people too and they have a voice. They are highly visible, but they too should be able to share their voice, their experiences, and their thoughts just as much as anyone else. Sometimes there are negative implications, but when you feel like you are standing up for what you believe in, sometimes it’s worth the price.
My daughter is a cheerleader and she and her teammates were talking about taking a knee during the national anthem to show their solidarity around the issues. She’s a sophomore, high school cheerleader who is having those conversations. I think what we can see in that and learn from that is people are affected and are trying to figure out a way to demonstrate their concern. A 14-year-old is engaged with what is happening in the world, sees how it impacts her, and what she can do about it. I think these young people are doing amazing things because they are finding their voice at a younger age and articulating it. That’s powerful.