In response to a racist incident at the University of Wisconsin—Madison football game on October 29, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) Executive Board stands with students, faculty, staff, and alumni who demand the University of Wisconsin take a stronger stand against racism on UW-Madison’s campus. At the football game, one attendee wore a costume with a dual mask of President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton in prisoner garb with a noose around his neck. The other end of the rope was held by a second attendee in a Donald Trump mask, depicting a lynching. We echo Chancellor Chancellor Blank’s denunciation of the stadium spectacle as “hateful,” but the focus on “open debate and diversity of thought” in her “Statement on Oct. 29 fan incident” underscores the consistent failure of the University of Wisconsin to adequately address racism on our campus. The joint statement from Chancellor Blank and Athletic Director Alvarez notes the racist symbolism and history of the noose while promising change in stadium policies, but we believe our university needs to do even more to change UW-Madison’ campus culture for the better.
In the wake of the incident, many individuals and groups have highlighted the problems with the UW-Madison administration’s response. We encourage everyone to read a number of those letters here: an open statement by UW professors, staff, and alumni; a letter from Reverend Alex Gee; an opinion piece by a UW-Madison student; a statement by the Urban League of Greater Madison; an article about the response from the UW-Madison Black and African-American Alumni; and an opinion piece by Madison civil rights activist and former UW employee Matthew Braunginn. Like others who have spoken out, it is our expectation that the University takes the experiences of those victimized by these incidents seriously and does so by defending those who have been harmed rather than protecting perpetrators.
Last weekend’s incident follows a deplorable line of offensive and oppressive events on the UW-Madison campus, such as when the UWPD removed a black student from class for anti-racist graffiti, when swastikas were drawn around campus, or when students of color were spit on and verbally assaulted by white fellow students. We believe the administrators would best serve their students by clearly and unambiguously asserting that racist and hateful acts will never be tolerated at UW-Madison and by involving undergraduate and graduate students in the reevaluation of campus policies. As graduate student workers, how do we address issues of hate in the workplace, in our classrooms, in our laboratories if we do not feel the University will support us in challenging those moments? How will a research assistant feel comfortable reporting discriminatory or harassing incidents by a supervisor if they do not feel that the University will listen and act?
Incidents such as these create a hostile environment for students of color. As the graduate student employee union on campus, we must do better to support and represent students of color by refusing to tolerate discrimination and harassment in the workplace and by working to dismantle the systemic barriers facing underrepresented communities. We also want to help drive the changes necessary to make this a campus worthy of the students of color who come here.
We want to highlight specific resources the TAA can offer graduate students:
- Graduate students facing hostility, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace can take advantage of our Contract Enforcement Committee by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Their job is to address issues in the workplace on graduate students’ behalf.
- Our Political Education Committee is planning to host a listening session to hear from graduate students of color and other underrepresented graduate students about the issues they face. The session will also be a space to collaboratively work toward action, including planning how to ensure that recent campus climate initiatives are implemented in a just way. This listening session will be publicized in the coming weeks. If you are interested in supporting this work, please contact email@example.com.
We recognize that membership in the TAA may be a barrier for some students of color, either for financial reasons or due to the historical whiteness of this union. The TAA represents all graduate students, and membership is not a prerequisite to work with or receive support from the union.
Policies alone will not dismantle the various forms of oppression on our campus, and we know that the TAA must do more than just make demands of the administration. We therefore commit ourselves to standing with those who have been victimized, to refusing to be silent accomplices in their oppression. Those who are not directly harmed by an incident have a responsibility to ensure the burden of affecting change does not fall on those who are targeted. We charge our members, and all graduate students, to speak up and confront oppression when it occurs.