Just like in years past, new students at the University of Wisconsin Madison this year will get a chance during freshman orientation to select their courses and pick a meal plan. But there’s something new on the agenda this fall, too: training in microaggressions.
After a spring semester fraught with racial tensions, the college has decided to spend up to $200,000 on so-called cultural competency training. At a time when students on college campuses are more easily offended than ever, the idea behind the training is to help new students learn to avoid saying or doing anything that could “trigger” their classmates.
The university has hired Infinity Martinez Consulting to create the program. Most of the expense, estimated between $150,000 and $200,000, will pay for staff to conduct the sessions, says Meredith McGlone, a university spokesperson. The curriculum is still being developed, she says.
The training is intended to give students more perspectives—”often contradicting perspectives”—on social issues, says Joshua Moon Johnson, chair of the Hate and Bias Incident Team. The fall semester’s pilot program will train up to 1,000 students, and by next year, UW-Madison seeks to make the program mandatory for all incoming freshmen and transfers.
It’s a response to several disturbing racial incidents that occurred in the spring on UW-Madison’s campus. “These [events] included swastikas placed on a Jewish student’s dorm room door, a black female student being spat upon in a dorm hallway, and the disruption of a ceremony held by Native American students and elders,” said McGlone. “These incidents pointed to the need to better prepare students, especially those new to campus, to engage with one another despite often having very different backgrounds and life experiences.”
Protests also erupted on campus in April after a police officer arrested a black UW-Madison student for allegedly putting graffiti on university buildings with phrases including “white supremacy is a disease.”
In response, protestors coordinated an event called “We are God: A day of disrupting white supremacy & anti-Black racism at UW-Madison.”
Some students participated in a walk-out from classrooms, with hundreds more later joining the protestors, temporarily blocking traffic near the campus.
Protestors issued a list of demands, including that police drop the graffiti charges and that, in general, the campus police allow a board made up of students and university employees to review all of their decisions. They also demanded that top university officials resign.
In May, the Dane County district attorney decided not to charge the student allegedly responsible for the graffiti, allowing him to instead participate in a restorative court program. Chancellor Rebecca Blank said she was incapable of meeting student protestors’ demands, which she called “[not] reasonable, or even lawful, for me to take.”
But in response to the recent racial tensions on campus, the university has moved forward on of several initiatives, including the cultural-competency training.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.