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Patrick sims Diversity Forum

Patrick Sims, UW-Madison chief diversity office, says that inclusion can't be a top-down project.

Improving the climate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for underrepresented and disadvantaged students is going to rely on efforts in departments, classrooms and social circles around campus, officials told a luncheon gathering Tuesday at the school's 2017 Diversity Forum.

“It can’t be top-down,” said Patrick Sims, campus chief diversity officer.

Sims was responding to a question from a student in the audience, who asked: “How are you going to hold yourselves accountable?”

Student accountability

"How are you going to hold yourselves accountable" on diversity and inclusion efforts, a UW-Madison student asks campus officials.

The comprehensive survey, released last week, found most that most of the more than 8,000 students participating view the campus climate positively, consider diversity important and are trying to create a more welcoming environment for other students.

But students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups report experiencing a less favorable campus climate than majority students. Students of color, students with a disability, LGBQ and transgender/non-binary students feel less safe and less welcome on campus.

That wasn’t exactly news, campus officials acknowledged Tuesday.

Dean of Students Lori Berquam recalled a conversation about the survey where someone remarked of the results, “Now we know the water is wet.”

“We didn’t learn anything new, but what we learned reinforced what we have been hearing from students,” Berquam said. “It’s an important point.”

The report included several general recommendations from a task force that analyzed the survey results. They were:

• Promoting instructional best practices that ensure an inclusive learning environment;

• Boosting recruitment of underrepresented students, faculty and staff and making sure we retain them; and

• Increasing the capacity of students, faculty and staff to intervene in response to hostile, harassing and intimidating behavior.

Eleven percent of students taking the survey also reported being the target of hostile, harassing or intimidating behavior while at UW–Madison. Chancellor Rebecca Blank called that result “deeply troubling.”

A baseline from which to gauge the success of initiatives designed to improve the climate in important, Sims said.

And a number of recently launched programs fit with the survey task force recommendations, he said.

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They include:

  • The One Wisconsin online education program on living with people from different backgrounds; some 7,000 students participated this fall, the second year.
  • The Discussion Project, begun this fall, through which faculty and staff train and commit to facilitating quality inclusive classroom discussions.
  • Badger Promise, which offers tuition support for first-generation, income-eligible Wisconsin students who start college at a UW College campus.
  • The hiring of a bias response and advocacy coordinator to oversee the reporting of bias incidents on campus.

Berquam noted that Blank has told colleges and departments to develop diversity and inclusive initiatives of their own. “What I hear from that is a commitment to do this work in a way that makes sense for people in their respective positions,” she said.

Consider, Sims said, the unique and vital way inclusion and diversity initiatives come into play at the School of Nursing, where a robust campaign is urging faculty to incorporate awareness into a curriculum that can have life and death consequences when nurses begin their health care practices.

“It affects the nature of the discipline,” he said.

Principles of academic freedom restrict the training that faculty can be required to take, Berquam said. But students, faculty and staff will have a role in developing way to support the survey recommendations, she said.

“These will live everywhere,” she said. “And I’m hoping you will help us hold ourselves accountable, so we’re doing it together.”

It starts with each person. Ask yourself, Berquam suggested: “Who do I have in my social circle?”

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