By Katie Scheidt
Beyond the buildings and landscapes and infrastructures that make up an educational institution, it is the people that occupy its physical space that often serve as a university’s image. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the framework of its student body, and the administrative efforts that affect it, have a history as storied as the school itself.
What started as an all-male, entirely white institution, UW-Madison is now home to a much more diverse student body. As of Spring 2017, 51 percent of enrolled students are female and 14.87 percent are minorities, a figure that has continued to increase year to year according to UW Office of the Registrar enrollment reports. Between Spring 2016 and Spring 2017 alone, this figure increased by 5.7 percent.
Prior to about ten years ago, however, minority enrollment had remained relatively stagnant. Between Spring 1997 and Spring 2007, minority enrollment only increased by 1.6 percent. This is despite the school’s effort to increase minority recruitment in the ’80s and ’90s.
The school’s first diversity report, released in 1987, was the Holley Report, an eight-part list of recommendations from the Steering Committee on Minority Affairs. Citing a need “to reaffirm… its commitment to people of color, and to develop a truly pluralistic multi-cultural community,” the report called for the creation of new administrative positions, a concrete plan for minority recruitment, a multicultural center for minority students and ethnic studies course requirement.
Shortly following the Holley Report, the school released its first comprehensive diversity plan titled the Madison Plan in 1988. The plan was considered to be a model system for large universities similar to UW-Madison, Interim Associate Vice Provost Ruby Paredas said in an email. Institutions that have used the plan as a model include the University of Michigan, Texas A&M and the University of California-Berkeley.
Ten years later, the UW System, comprised of thirteen 4-year universities around Wisconsin, launched another diversity report. With its goals nearly unchanged from previous years, Plan 2008 was created as a relaunch of diversity initiatives from earlier reports and aimed to increase minority representation across the UW system. A closeout report from UW-Madison in 2009 found that in the plan’s 10-year period, minority enrollment across the UW System increased by 2.8 percent.
At UW-Madison specifically, minority enrollment increased by 3.85 percent over the 10-year period. Additionally, programs such as the PEOPLE and First Wave programs were founded at the campus with the goal of increasing recruitment of ethnic minority students or students from low-income backgrounds. Both programs demonstrated a first to second year retainment percentage above 90 percent in their first years.
Moving forward from Plan 2008, UW-Madison released its latest diversity framework in 2011, titled Strategic-Diversity Update. In this plan, university administration worked with student government to once again increase diversity throughout the student body and faculty. In a letter to the editor, to the Daily Cardinal, UW-Madison’s student newspaper, UW-Madison economics professor W. Lee Hansen said that the three main recommendations outlined in the plan were “designed to embed diversity programs more deeply within the campus administrative structure.”
The use of shared governance in creating diversity frameworks such as Strategic-Diversity Update requires a more thought-out approach, according to Paredas.
“Planning ensures a rational and systematic approach to achieve change in campus environments, particularly in institutions like UW-Madison where shared governance is a deeply rooted principle,” Paredas said. “[It] requires from the very beginning…the involvement and commitment of the campus community at all levels.”