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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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UW-Madison explores a broader definition of campus diversity
The diversity committee will hold nine sessions through Nov. 12.
Credit:Ben Siegel

"Diversity" as an institutional mandate has meant a number of things at UW-Madison since it was first pursued (PDF) in 1987. Among other initiatives, it sparked hiring and recruitment initiatives to bring more women and minority students, faculty, administrators and staff to campus, and the creation of an ethnic studies requirement for undergraduates.

Now the university is developing its Diversity Plan 2013, with members of the Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee conducting meetings on campus and around Madison to brainstorm ideas for a new diversity framework they are hoping to put together by the end of the academic year.

The most recent diversity plan (PDF) was crafted in 2008, and according to Patrick Sims, UW-Madison's interim vice provost for diversity and climate, who spoke at a Tuesday meeting, the campus is waiting for a new plan.

Where past initiatives focused on recruitment and retention, Sims said that the committee is "worried not just about bringing people to campus, but their experiences here."

He urged people to think "critically and differently" about power and diversity on campus, and to consider expanding the definition of diversity to other contexts.

According to Ruth Litovsky, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and a co-chair of the ad hoc committee, diversity is also about "how comfortable you feel" on campus, and how inclusive the community is. And that goes for all students and staff, not just minorities and women.

The meetings consisted of a number of small group discussions led by facilitators who started conversations about inclusiveness on campus and times where the community has been welcoming.

In one discussion, a university custodial worker said that in five years on campus, he had felt a welcoming environment only once -- on the day he was hired. Another university employee said he sometimes feels unappreciated and under-encouraged at work in facilities management. And a third university employee said he finds it frustrating when decisions get made without discussion or consensus.

In total, the diversity committee is holding nine sessions through Nov. 12, using the comments received to craft a new diversity framework. The draft will be reviewed by the faculty senate and student government before being revised and submitted for a second round of public comments in the spring.

The process will take time but even in these initial sessions, Litovsky sees results. "There's never been this on campus before -- a broader discussion of diversity," she says. "We're hearing some very deep stories from people about challenges and successes [of community acceptance]. We are already acting on the plan."

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