Black Students Excluded From Homecoming Video at UW-Madison

Homecomings are important celebrations at colleges and universities. It is a time to celebrate the school’s traditions, welcome alumni, rekindle old friendships, and build new ones. With the exception of graduation, it is a moment for university officials to show its many stakeholders — from students and alumni to corporate sponsors — its collective face and spirit. A recent homecoming video at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) drew the ire of students and alumni alike because it failed to include a significant portion of its undergraduate and alumni population, according to NBC News.

UW-Madison produced a homecoming video titled “Home is Where Wi Are.” According to the homecoming committee, which the alumni association sponsors, the committee invited student groups to participate, which included “students from underrepresented populations.” However, after its release, several current and former students criticized the final product because it included only white students, according to NBC News.

Black students and people of color expressed dismay but were not surprised. Students such as Payton Wade, a senior, pointed to a long history of daily insults and exclusion during her college career at UW-Madison, writing “Being Black at this school is a daily struggle both mentally and physically.”

Wade stated that she and members of her historically Black sorority were invited to participate by the homecoming committee. In a Facebook post, Wade wrote, “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,“ according to NBC News. However, the released video did not include Wade’s sorority or any other Black students.

Anthony Wright, an alumnus, used Twitter to vent his frustration. He questioned the qualifications of the editing team who apparently did not flag the obvious omission of diverse populations and identities.

In response to student disappointment and complaints, the video was taken down from the university’s website. The Wisconsin Alumni Association apologized to the university community for its “partial representation of the student body.” UW-Madison released a statement acknowledging a long history of exclusion and lack of diversity.

The university wrote, “We must commit to and invest in ways to change this. One important way is to ensure active participation and authentic involvement by Badgers of many different identities in all aspects of campus life.”

The release of this video occurs against the backdrop of two important events in the university’s history: the 50th anniversary of the Black Student Strike and a scathing report on the university’s history of racism released last year.

The Black Student Strike occurred in response to the blatant racism Black students faced on the UW-Madison campus in 1969. When the administration proved unresponsive to student demands, the strike accelerated. Joined by a group of white allies, Black students seized buildings, staged rallies, boycotted classes, and blocked entrances to buildings. Eventually they shut down State Street, the main artery running from the center of campus to the Wisconsin State Capitol building. They burned an effigy of the administration in the lap of the Abraham Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill, a university landmark. The strike was quelled after the governor called out the National Guard who were armed with bayoneted rifles and police who used tear gas to dismantle the strike and regain control of the campus. The homecoming video incident also comes hard on the heels of a report last year on the university’s racist history. In 2018, UW-Madison released a report that detailed a long history of racial exclusion. The report made clear that the exclusion was systemic: it was “a pervasive culture of racial and religious bigotry, casual, and unexamined in its prevalence, in which exclusion and indignity were routine, sanctioned in the institution’s daily life, unchallenged by its leaders.”

This culture of exclusion included, among other factors, two student organizations that actually included “Klu Klux Klan” in their titles, which operated on campus between 1919 and 1926. In addition, the names of two Klan members — the first Director of the Wisconsin Union Porter Butts and the Oscar-winning actor Fredric March — appeared on facilities at the Memorial Union: the Porter Butts Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle theater. Considering the report’s findings, the university voted to rename the spaces, respectively, to the Main Gallery and the Play Circle, according to The Cap Times.

Despite diversity programs and initiatives, the Office of the Registrar at UW-Madison found the total Black population on campus remains below three percent.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.