Is the Diversity of Your School Accurately Reflected in Its Promotional Materials?

Is the Diversity of Your School Accurately Reflected in Its Promotional Materials?

Days before Homecoming Week, the student homecoming committee, tasked with producing the video, posted it online. The outrage was almost instantaneous. Virtually every student in the video was white.

This is the story of a video that galvanized and divided a university plagued by a history of racist incidents, as told by the people who saw it happen. Black students in particular say the homecoming video crystallized a daily fact of life: They feel they are not wanted at the University of Wisconsin, where there are significantly fewer African-Americans per capita than in the state, which is mostly white. This fall, more than 30,000 undergraduates began the school year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fewer than 1,000 of them are African-American.

The video was never supposed to attract much attention.

The homecoming committee, a group of several dozen students, has a simple mission: celebrating the university during Homecoming Week with a string of events including a 5K run, blood drive and parade.

A video would boost the promotional aspect of it all, the students decided, a short, visual ode to school spirit. The committee enlisted student organizations to be filmed — among them Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority.

At the end of September, the video was finished and posted on Facebook. No one expected it to be seen very widely.

One evening, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha noticed that the video had been posted online.

Payton Wade, 21, a senior and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha: We were tagged on Facebook when they said a “thank you” to all of the organizations who participated in the video. And I watched the video and I realized that we weren’t in it.

Olivia Lopez, 22, a senior from Milwaukee who identifies as biracial: People started talking about it Monday, and they actually took it down off their website and their Facebook. But a couple of our peers had screen recorded it so that people could still see it and know what all the uproar was about.

Payton Wade’s Facebook page:

I am sharing this post because the Epsilon Delta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was asked to participate in this video and explain what we thought “home is” here at UW-Madison. Not only did we tell them what we thought home was but we also took hours out of our day to film as well and were told we would be in the video and notified when it was completed.

UW-Madison is home to students who see Black students as less than and unfit to be at this university. UW-Madison is home to Black students who fear for their safety because of the color of their skin.

Olivia Lopez: I was just like, how did they not realize how wrong this is?

Soon, the homecoming committee issued an apology.

Soon, the homecoming committee issued an apology.

Statement from the homecoming committee:

To promote student Homecoming, we recently produced a video called “Home Is Where WI Are,” and we invited various student groups to participate in the video. Unfortunately, not all the video images produced were included in the final product, including those of students from under represented populations.

We regret omitting those images and we recognized that, by doing so, we unintentionally caused hurt to members of our campus community.

We are sorry that our video failed to show the full breadth of the university experience and made members of our community feel excluded.

Students of color were upset, the university’s administration was scrambling and even many white students agreed that members of Alpha Kappa Alpha should have been included. But the video stirred a different feeling, too.

Emilie Cochran, a reporter for The Badger Herald student newspaper who covered the story: It made people uncomfortable, seeing a lot of people who look alike representing the university. And it woke people up, saying, this is actually what our university looks like.

The video had been deleted for more than a week, but it would not go away.

Copies that students had made were watched on phones in dorms, coffee shops and the student union. Campus newspapers covered the story, and so did The Wisconsin State Journal, in which a headline declared, “UW-Madison Apologizes for Now-Deleted Homecoming Video of Nearly All-White Student Body.” The students of the Homecoming Committee continued with their planned week of events before the homecoming football game, hoping the furor would die down.

Students of color pushed in the other direction. They formed a group called the Student Inclusion Coalition. Their suggestion was to use the upcoming game to address outrage over the video. The administration agreed to help make a new video. This one would feature students of color — and it would be broadcast at halftime.

As tens of thousands of students and alumni were gathered at Camp Randall Stadium to watch the Badgers face off against Michigan State University, the new video began to play: