A Republican state senator says a new diversity outreach program at the UW-Madison is “sinister.”
Sen. Steve Nass made the comment in reaction to UW-Madison announcing its plans to improve the experiences of minorities on the flagship campus. The plan calls for having new students discuss social differences, a new cultural center for black students and increased opportunities to take ethnic studies courses.
Nass is vice-chair of the Senate’s committee on universities.
Nass said university leaders “constantly complain about lacking money” but “they never lack money for advancing new and more sinister ways of liberal indoctrination of students.”
He said the initiative isn’t about advancing critical thinking, but about “telling students to think and act in ways approved by the liberal leadership of our universities.”
UW-Madison leaders, however, say they created the diversity program at issue after a series of race-related incidents have occurred on campus.
The campus will test the program, called Our Wisconsin, on up to 1,000 freshmen to allow students to learn about themselves and others, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“That’s what the collegiate experience is all about,” UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam said. “Some of our students are joining us from small towns and they’re going to live in a residence hall that’s bigger.”
More than half of the university’s students are from Wisconsin, which the U.S. Census Bureau said was nearly 88 percent white in 2015.
The campus is part of a national trend of colleges that believe mandatory cultural competency orientation can relieve racial tensions and help students navigate diverse work environments after graduation.
The program’s creators said they consulted with other colleges that have implemented diversity programs, including University of Oklahoma, Oregon State University and the University of Michigan. A diversity consulting firm hired by the university wrote the program’s curriculum.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank set aside $150,000 to $200,000 from a special fund for the pilot program.
Lee Hansen, professor emeritus of economics at UW-Madison, has written several op-eds questioning the program and predicts there will be student backlash. He said the university’s population of more than 43,000 will always include some people who have unshakable views on race and that diversity training only pits students against one another.
Last year, the university saw incidents in which swastikas were taped to a Jewish student’s dorm room door, a Native American elder was heckled and a student of color received an anonymous note with racial threats.