by Tyriek Mack
Tomorrow, a group of students will be presenting legislation that calls the UW Chancellor to create a task force to study the feasibility of test-optional admissions and reparations in the full and free access to UW-Madison for all black people.
The students, myself included, are a part of the student activist group The Blackout Movement. will be introducing the legislation to the Student Council of the Associated Students of Madison. The petition is calling for the Chancellor take the following actions: create a special task force by March 1st to assess the utility and feasibility of test-optional admissions and geographically-weighted admissions, an increase in generic unrestricted need-based financial aid that amounts to 10 percent of total giving from the UW foundation and reparations for the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all Black people. As students, we understand that despite the University’s rhetoric, this school is not inclusive, accessible, or affordable for Black students in Wisconsin. The University is not blind to this reality; in fact, the University’s brand and prestige benefits from their practices of exclusion and white supremacy.
Test-optional admissions is one of our demands because a significant amount of research has shown that standardized testing does not indicate how well one will perform at an institution. In addition, the advertisement of average ACT scores during recruitment discourages students who could have been successful at this University from applying. This equates to the average family income of UW-Madison application being significantly higher than the state’s average family income. Chancellor Blank loves to say that the, “…retention rate (freshmen returning for sophomore year) is now above 95 percent among both historically underrepresented students and all other students – we’ve closed the retention gap that used to exist.” How is this possible? Well, essentially all of the scholarship programs under the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement are given resources that support students once they are on campus. If the Chancellor truly believes that the University is capable of producing well-rounded students of color, then why doesn’t she fully commit to bringing in more students of color?
The second demand is an increase in generic unrestricted need-based financial aid that will amount to 10 percent of the total giving from the UW Foundation. In FY 2014, the UW Foundation gave the University about $230 million in “tied-up” money. According to the Chancellor, the University has no control over how the money they receive should be used—which begs the question, “Who really controls this University?” By following our demand, the Chancellor will actively and publicly express the need for unrestricted need-based aid. Will she have the courage to challenge the donors?
Finally, the last demand is the free and full access to the University for all Black people. This is a demand that is taking directly from the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform. I always find it comical that the University of Wisconsin-Madison attempts to position itself as as the torch holder which will light the cauldron of justice. In the last few months, the University has had to respond to multiple incidents regarding campus climate: including, the noose at Camp Randall stadium and the formation of an alt-right group. In both cases, the University committed itself to “diversity.” Personally, I don’t find their arguments appeasing because at the end of the day, whether the University decides to make a statement or not, they still perpetuate white supremacy.
If this University, or America as a whole, is good for anything, it’s spreading propaganda. Empty phrases like “inclusion” and “diversity” are just the contemporary nomenclature for “token integration.” Tell me—how can a University that prides itself on diversity, have only a 2 percent Black population? If the university was committed as they say they are on paper, they would have taken steps that people have been asking for years. To add salt to the wound, the University “celebrates” Black History Month by giving students the resources to organize a full-packed month of programming. Now, I’m not against the idea of Nikki Giovanni, Marc Lamont Hill or anyone else coming to campus to enlighten our young minds; however, it is unsettling to me that we only get this opportunity during Black History Month. If the University put in as much effort towards the recruitment and admission of Black students from Wisconsin as they do to help Black students feel integrated during Black history Month, then maybe we could have an “inclusive” campus.
At the root of America’s, and the University’s, stagnation in terms of racial progress is “cognitive dissonance.” Ultimately, the inclusive rhetoric propagated by these white supremacist institutions have little real meaning. For example, in 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill which “expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future;”  meanwhile, at the expense of African-Americans, America incarcerates the most people in the world. It’s being said that since Trump was elected, China is priming to be the leader of the “Free World.” As ironic as that sounds, it’s ludicrous that America was ever considered the leader of the “Free World.”
This is just another opportunity for the University to do the right thing. How will they respond? We shall see.
Tyriek Mack is a junior at UW, and currently a representative for the Associated Students of Madison.