UW BlackOut wants racism addressed

February 10, 2016

Grant Hoppel and Liam Manjon report from Madison, Wisconsin, on an action by activists to address racism at the University of Wisconsin.

ACTIVISTS AT University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison turned out at the Board of Regents meeting February 5 to fix a notable omission from the meeting's agenda--there was no discussion planned about promoting diversity on campuses and ways to address issues facing students of color.

Some 60 people took part in the action organized by UW BlackOut, a group that formed after a massive protest at UW-Madison on November 12 in solidarity with anti-racist protests at the University of Missouri, or Mizzou. The Madison rally was one of the largest of the protests that erupted in the fall in response to racism on college campuses, with some 1,500 students and community members taking the streets.

Friday's Board of Regents protest, in which activists interrupted the meeting to present their list of demands, was the second time the group forced Gov. Scott Walker's handpicked Regents to listen to the demands of students of color. After the group's first action at the Regents' meeting on December 11, protesters were offered a meeting with UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

Anti-racist activists confront the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents
Anti-racist activists confront the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents

UW BlackOut formed with the goal of organizing against inequality and racism on campuses across the state. They have formulated a list of demands, which include recognizing and repairing the harm that students of color experience, creating a comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum and trainings, implementing a 10-year strategic diversity program, initiating a task force to evaluate and create diversity initiatives, organizations and trainings, an increase in mental health professionals and resources for students of color and eliminating standardized testing in admissions.

AT THE February Board of Regents meeting, protesters were eager to discuss the issues facing Black students at the UW, including the dearth of Black mental health care providers as well as the negative impact that standardized testing has had on students of color in America. But the Regents seemed uninterested in hearing what they had to say.

"This is the second meeting in a row that the Regents have denied us a space just to talk for five or 10 minutes," protest organizer Lamonte Moore told UW's Daily Cardinal. Kenneth Cole, another organizer of the action, added, "I think it shows a lack of cooperation and a lack of a willingness to get on board with multicultural issues on campus."

Protesters attempted to distribute copies of the group's demands to the Regents, provosts and other decision-making members of the UW system, only to be stopped by the police. Then the group stood up and asked the board if it would hear their demands. The board ignored them.

Demonstrators proceeded to read their demands out loud, and when board members tried to silence them, the protesters chanted "Ase!" and "Power!" until the board relented and called a short recess. Having successfully read their demands aloud in the meeting, protesters filed out after protest organizer Cole signaled "BlackOut, move out!" Protesters were then escorted out by UW police to chants of "Holler back!" followed by "I got your back!"

The Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA), which represents graduate students at UW, also showed up to support the UW BlackOut action. United Faculty and Academic Staff (UFAS) and other faculty unions from around the state held an action earlier that day targeting the Board of Regents as well.

The UFAS action was organized to oppose detrimental changes to tenure that are being proposed by the Board of Regents. The TAA showed up to the meeting to support UFAS and stayed to support UW BlackOut in a show of solidarity.

For the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement in Madison, led by groups like the Young Gifted and Black Coalition, has been primarily focused on organizing in the neighborhoods and high schools in town. Actions like the Mizzou solidarity rally last year and the Board of Regents protests indicate that anti-racist activism is also finding a home on the UW-Madison campus.

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