Interview with the Chancellor

In an April 22nd interview, Black Voice writers Jordan Gaines and Alexandria Mason sat down the Chancellor Rebecca Blank to ask some of the student bodies most pressing questions. Members of the UW-Madison community sent in questions ranging in topic from the university’s ties to prison labor to recent hate and bias incidents on campus all to ultimately figure out “Becky, what’s good.” A video of the interview and partial transcripts can be found below.

JG: How are non-students of color being engaged in this conversation and being help accountable for how they apply their privilege to the greater institution and the issues going on?


CB:It’s been a difficult semester and I know its been a difficult semester for a lot of folks. I think the good news is that students of color are calling out things that happen in a way that they haven’t before. Whether it’s tweeting on the hashtag “TheReaUW” or elsewhere. As difficult as that is to hear, it is better to be talking about it and to be hearing about it than to not be, to simply have it be something that is a conversation only in one community and no one else knows what’s going on…
The changes that have to happen in terms of behavior have to happen in some level because of a cultural change inside of what people find expectable, what sort of behavior they do and how they do it. I can promise you that nothing I say is going to change what someone yells on a Saturday night out on Langdon street. Yes we can do things and we are doing things from Bascom, from the Deans, and from others around campus to try to address this, but there also has to be a grassroots movement coming from all students, not just students of color. Where they hear the concern and start thinking twice about behavior and calling it out as well…

JG: I think what students are looking for is some sort of disciplinary action. I think students of color will think twice before they decided to vandalize a campus building with anti-racist remarks because they can get arrested. That same thinking can be applied where people will think twice about spitting racial slurs, marking up peoples’ rooms, or sending people notes with threats if they’ve seen the direct disciplinary action that takes place.

CB:So one of the restraints that I’m always under is that I can’t speak about disciplinary action related to any specific student unless its become public…

Other students who we have identified in various hate and bias reports, we have taken through a disciplinary process. I wish I could lay out and say here’s what we’re doing here. I just can’t do that. I’m prohibited from all privacy actions and it just wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about that. But what I can say, and I realize that simply saying this generically without talking about specifics can be unsatisfying, is that we have taken actions within those processes that are reasonably strict. There’s some debate going on internally on whether we’ve been too strict…

AM: What would you say the incentive would be for students of color to attend this university given these racial incidents?

CB:Well I continue to say the main reason for anyone to come to this university is the quality of education and classes and the breadth of opportunities that we provide. I do think that Wisconsin provides as good an education as our peers and better than many and you have to be willing to come for that and that is the first reason why anyone should come to the campus. What is clear is that students of color who come here will face some challenges…

JG: I think the incentive of a good education at Madison even comes into question when you talked about students of color and a harsh racial climate. When you’re here you don’t feel comfortable. You don’t feel like the faculty who don’t look believe that you can learn or your peers support you in your learning. A common experience that students of color have is they have to spend a lot of their time, energy, and resources in dedicating themselves to vocalizing the issues, creating organizations, and running those organizations to better the campus climate. That takes away from the energy they put towards their studies as students. Students of color don’t really get to just be students. So, what do you say then, when even the education and the quality of education that we pride ourselves off of is in jeopardy or is not the same quality of education for students of color?


CB:I hear what you’re saying and obviously this has been one of the main points of unhappiness that’s been going on, that’s really been vocalized and discussed over the last number of months. I hope we can do a better job on that. I can’t convince you of that short of doing some things that try to do a better job. Whether its around training or conversations with new students coming in, training with our faculty and staff about what’s happening in and what isn’t and how they can deal better with some of these issues. I think all of that is stuff that has to happen and you will hold us accountable for that…

JG: Another student question read I cannot economically sustain myself on campus because I am a low-income student; my parents can’t send me money. I work 25-30 hours a week so it is very hard to balance schoolwork. I have been mocked by professors, TA’s, and students. I have little to no resources on campus to help me. What initiatives could you realistically roll out in the next few years to support low-income students?

CB:The real question is what sort financial aid do we have and how do we assist students; I wish I had more financial aid resources than I do. The federal dollars have been quite restricted and the state dollars have not grown in the last 10 years. We have over that time period more than doubled our internal financial aid dollars because we’re getting no additional state or federal support and we know we need that. So, we have made a huge effort to try to increase financial aid to low-income students on this campus and both of the following are true: we have hugely increased the amount of aid we are internally putting into this out of our core dollars, and we don’t have enough. I am pushing as far as I can. One of the things we’re trying to do with the current campaign with our alumni is prioritize student support. We currently have a $50 million dollar matching offer out there, which we’ve matched $30 million, which will all go into fellowships for mostly students of economic need. Growing those resources is the most important thing that I can do. Short of saying we need to have the economic resources to help low-income students who are admitted to this campus to be able to come and attend here and survive and thrive. That means putting the resources together. In the current budget climate I have to tell you that’s hard. I will tell you we have prioritized that over almost anything else in the budget, which you can see if you look at the institutional dollars going into scholarship aid and financial need aid. Does that leave some students still short? I know it does.

JG: At the protest the other day students had a lot of demands and request. Students were calling for a lot of resignations including yours. So what do you think about students saying a solution is we need a new chancellor?


CB:It comes with the job. They aren’t the first group to call for my resignation; they’re not going to be the last.       


JG: As the Chancellor we see that you, as well as several other administrators and those who are decision makers for this university are not people of color. What’s being done for you all as far as training and recognizing your own privilege in the space and how that privilege might affect the way you view students of color and the issues that they’re facing?


CB:I think that’s a serious issue. I have done diversity training a number of times in the past, as I know the provost has as well. I don’t know if that is true of some of the other senior people and I’ll take that comment seriously and go back to my executive team.

AM: A big concern after King Shabazz was arrested from his classroom was the traumatization that Black people on this campus experience, not only on this campus but in society in general with criminalization. So how can Black students trust UWPD when we’re criminalized in our classrooms and even a step further than that, how is the university going to repair that harm and that trauma of seeing a student arrested that looks like considering the criminal justice system?

CB:A lot of the current concern over climate has emerged over a conversation that started two years ago with Ferguson. Month after month have brought incidents of particularly young, Black men being shot. I understand why that creates enormous concerns about safety and distrust. You could imagine what the equivalent would be in some other communities of seeing someone who looks like them consistently being targeted. It makes the job of the police very tough. One of the reasons why I’m very sorry about this incident is, as I have said and as the police chief has said, we have pretty strict policy that says unless a student possess an imminent danger immediate to those around them, not to enter an active classroom. That should not have happened. We’ve all said that quite clearly. One reason I’m really sorry about this is we actually have a police force that has a reputation, has long had a reputation for being better in the way in which they deal with a whole range of student issues including some of these climate issues than many other police forces. Our police chief has actually been called upon to do training and advice and assistance. It only takes on incident like this to affect a reputation built over the last 20-30 years. That particularly makes me sad because students don’t understand the reputation of our police, who really have been a model across the campus…



Featured image by Jeff Miller

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