A video promoting UW-Madison that featured almost exclusively white students sparked immediate criticism on social media this week, eliciting apologies from the student committee that created the video, the Wisconsin Alumni Association and the university administration.
The university’s student Homecoming Committee invited student groups to participate in filming for the video, and Alpha Kappa Alpha, the university’s first and largest black sorority, agreed.
The video’s purpose was to pump up excitement for a lineup of Homecoming events starting Oct. 10 and to promote pride in the university. A “Home is where WI are” theme showed clips of what appears to be almost all white students cheering in the crowd at Camp Randall, biking along the lake path, hanging out at the Terrace and eating slices of Ian’s Pizza.
No footage of Alpha Kappa Alpha appears in the video, according to sorority members, despite the group spending at least an hour filming with the committee about two weeks ago.
“Don’t make a university-sanctioned video when you’re going to literally erase people that make up the UW-Madison community,” said UW-Madison senior and sorority president Kingsley Pissang.
Facing blistering criticism from alumni and students on the video’s lack of diversity, the committee took the 98-second video down from social media accounts within a day. The 40-member student committee apologized in a Facebook post Monday, saying that not all of the filming ended up in the final product. The statement failed to explain how or why Alpha Kappa Alpha was cut out of the film during the editing process, but tagged in the Facebook post featuring the video.
The episode, first reported by The Badger Herald, is seen by students of color as just the latest example of racism and exclusion on a campus where seven of every 10 undergraduates was white last school year.
Colleen Muraca, co-chairwoman for the committee’s public relations, declined to comment Wednesday and referred questions to the Wisconsin Alumni Association.
The Wisconsin Alumni Association said in a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday that it takes responsibility for the video.
“We apologize that the video gave only a partial representation of the UW–Madison student body,” the organization wrote. “We have identified gaps in our processes and oversight that can be corrected.”
Alumni Association spokesman Tod Pritchard said Wednesday the organization is developing “potential remedies” and intends to work with the committee and other university partners on carrying those remedies out.
“It is clear that we need to pay more attention to ensuring that any content promoting a campus-wide event is representative of the student body,” he said.
Students apply and interview to serve on the Homecoming Committee. They are then selected by their committee peers, Pritchard said. The application does not ask students for their race, so he was unable to say what the racial makeup of the committee was.
The university released its own statement, apologizing for the pain the video has caused on campus and vowing to engage with students on ways to improve campus climate.
Jared Biddle, a junior studying elementary education and president of the Black Student Union, said the video did not surprise him, pointing to another incident only a few weeks ago when protesters used nooses in a climate-change demonstration and later apologized.
He said university leaders should meet more often with student leaders from underrepresented communities to better understand life in the minority on a predominantly white campus.
“It’s easy for an institution to feel like home when you’re within a majority on the campus,” he said. “An apology isn’t enough when these issues have occurred over and over again.”
The committee’s idea for the video, to ask participating student groups why UW-Madison was home to them, initially struck the right tone for Pissang. It appealed to her because of the importance she and other students of color place on finding a community where they feel they belong on a campus where they often do not.
“Home is where we swim, bike and run,” a narrated voice-over plays in the now-deleted video. “Home is where we grow together. It’s where the hills are. It’s eating our favorite foods. It’s where we can all harmonize as one. Home is Wisconsin cheese curds. It’s welcoming everyone into our home.”
Pissang said she and the 12-member sorority acknowledge all of the apologies issued this week. But she couldn’t shake the irony that her home somehow wasn’t welcome into the larger campus community.