‘Our Wisconsin’ offers students an avenue for civic engagement on campus

“The Wisconsin Idea” embraces the application of research, shared knowledge and experiences to solve issues. The Division of Student Life created Our Wisconsin as a two-part, in-person inclusion workshop for new students to better the UW-Madison campus community for tomorrow.

Based on research about intergroup dialogues, Our Wisconsin was created to provide students an interactive space to explore personal narratives, their own identities and contexts. These dialogues provide a framework for conflict resolution, community building and foster an understanding of identity and inequality on college campuses.

“As we introduce new students to Our Wisconsin, we are introducing them to their new home at UW and in the dorms and to the expectations we have for our community,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a recent blog post.

After a successful pilot program, Our Wisconsin will officially launch Fall 2017 allowing a majority of incoming UW-Madison students to engage in facilitated dialogues around diversity and inclusion. In Fall 2016, the program successfully reached about 1,000 undergraduate students throughout Sellery, Cole, Leopold, and Sullivan residence halls. Workshops are led by Badger Way Facilitators, teams of student, staff and faculty who have an interest in allowing participants to engage in a structured dialogue, activities, and reflection.

“We’re expanding Our Wisconsin and right now. I have the privilege to welcome our second facilitator class of 70 peer facilitators, 50 staff and faculty facilitators. It will be a massive endeavor,” Laura Klunder, current Program Director for Inclusion Education, said.

Klunder previously served as a social justice educator at the UW-Madison Multicultural Student Center where she helped create spaces for conversations surrounding topics like inclusion and equity. She said the Our Wisconsin program offers students an avenue for civic engagement on campus. Students are encouraged to incorporate ideas from the dialogue into their organizations, activism, interpersonal discussions, and/or other aspects of campus life.

“Our campus went through a rough patch last April. Hate and Bias incidents stacked up and they were happening to my closest friends, in the dorm where I lived, and even to me,” sophomore and Badger Way Facilitator Jamie Dawson said.

Dawson referred to several incidents of racial prejudice which occurred in Sellery and Witte Halls last spring. She said these experiences prompted her to want to apply to be a facilitator.

Dawson said Our Wisconsin fulfills a need on campus. She said students have to understand the context in which our peers are coming from in order to create the best experience for each and every student. Some of the topics discussed in workshops are ones that some students have never talked about about before.

“The facilitator teams would arrive before the session began to set up. As the rooms filled, people would sometimes look apprehensive. It was the first year so no one really knew what to expect,” Dawson said. “Most importantly though, in looking into the room of participants I could recognize that every one was a student just like me.”

Dawson said that the dialogue-based workshops helped students go beyond the “tip of the iceberg” engaging in conversations that helped others to learn more about each other and the world around them. She also said each group of students was a unique experience.

“Before we facilitate any sessions ourselves, all of the facilitators attend four long days of training. dr. becky martinez was amazing and lead us all comfortably out of our comfort zone,” Dawson said.

martinez is a one of the facilitators at The Social Justice Training Institute, a national organization that works to increase the cultural competencies of social justice educators. 2017-2018 Badger Way Facilitators will begin training in late August.

The Our Wisconsin curriculum will be introduced at Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) this summer and the first dialogue will take place in the first few weeks of the semester so first-year students will be encouraged to participate.

Campus community members interested in learning more about the all-student inclusion program can always visit their office in the South Mezzanine in the Red Gym, directly above the Multicultural Student Center and Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Our Wisconsin joins AlcoholEdu and Tonight as one of UW-Madison’s successful orientation program for undergraduate students, inviting all students to “lead the Badger Way.”

By: Malik Anderson