UW launches $200K diversity training after protests of vandal's arrest
Administrators at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW) are rolling out mandatory cultural competency training in the wake of threats from students angry over the arrest of a vandal.
UW was rocked by student outrage earlier this year when a black man was arrested on campus for 11 counts of vandalism and one count of disorderly conduct for threatening an innocent bystander, and protest leaders vow to continue their efforts throughout the summer.
"This pilot is an effort to...create some broad awareness of difference[.]"
The student, Denzel McDonald, was found responsible for all 11 counts, costing the university $4,000 in repairs to scrub messages from its walls such as “The Devil iz a white man,” “Fuck the police,” “Death to the pigz,” and “White supremacy iz a dizeaze.”
Predictably, hundreds of students staged a mass walkout after McDonald’s arrest, during which protesters defaced a statue of President Abraham Lincoln with a list of demands that included calls for “community control” of the school’s police department and the complete dismissal of the investigation into McDonald’s case.
Shortly thereafter, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne dropped all 11 charges of vandalism against McDonald on the grounds that he was merely “trying to exercise his First Amendment rights.”
“When I and a deputy met with McDonald and his attorney, it was clear he understood the seriousness of his behavior and that although he was trying to exercise his First Amendment rights, the way he went about it affected the impact of his message,” Ozanne explained, insisting that the school “will not see the same activity again” from McDonald, who pled guilty to a separate citation for graffiti over a year ago.
Now, the school is caving to the activists’ demands, announcing several new diversity initiatives, including cultural competency training required for all incoming students.
“College is often the first time where people are exposed to people who are different from themselves—those could be religious differences, racial, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation,” Joshua Johnson, who is leading the training, explained in a press release. “This pilot is an effort to definitely create some broad awareness of difference—not to tell people how to think, but to tell people how to critique the ways in which they think.”
Notably, UW’s Hate and Bias Incident Team, which Johnson oversees, recently released its annual bias incident report, saying many reported incidents “deal with written hate and biased speech and vandalism.” The report, though, does not make any explicit mention of McDonald’s case.
Meanwhile, an independent study of a UW diversity program shows that the program is in fact failing. The program, known as “PEOPLE,” was created as a “pre-college pipeline for students of color and low-income students.” Yet the study reveals that only a small percentage of each freshman class enrolls in the program, and that less than one-third of those who do are able to graduate within four years.
Nonetheless, the school continues to ramp up its diversity efforts despite evidence of their ineffectiveness. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the cultural competency training—just one of many new initiatives— will cost between $150,000 and $200,000 for the upcoming school year alone.
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