Student life – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Mon, 17 Sep 2018 15:53:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reckoning with History Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 People walk past a decorative wall in the Memorial Union

Bryce Richter

Between 1919 and 1926, two UW student organizations took the name Ku Klux Klan, and a report delving into that era of campus history “does not make for comfortable reading, nor should it,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

In the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last fall, Blank appointed a study group to research the organizations and their connection to the national KKK. She also asked members of the group, which included UW history professors, to advise her on how the university can respond to this painful history.

The group’s report, released in April, found that the campus community in the early 1920s did not question the presence of two organizations bearing the KKK name, including one that was affiliated with the national white supremacist group Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The report also detailed what Blank calls “shameful examples” of the UW community’s treatment of black and Jewish students and of Native Americans, who were excluded from the student body during that era.

“The history the UW needs to confront was not the aberrant work of a few individuals but 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, and unchallenged by its leaders,” the report says.

The study group also considered the question of renaming campus spaces. But members decided that, first and foremost, the university needs to take more substantive action to address the past and reinvest in institutional change. “We want our collective reckoning with this history to consist of a great deal more than the purging of unpleasant reminders,” the report says.

However, the Wisconsin Union Council, which governs Memorial Union, voted in August to change the names of the Porter Butts Art Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle — named for the union’s first director and the Oscar-winning actor, respectively. Both men belonged to an interfraternity society that used the Ku Klux Klan name in the early 1920s but was not affiliated with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The surviving family members of Butts publicly supported the move, which council members said would allow the Union to fulfill its mission by being more welcoming to students of all backgrounds. Butts ’24, MA’36 worked for inclusivity later in his life, including his refusal to allow segregated groups to use Wisconsin Union spaces. And in the 1950s, March ’20 fought persecution of Hollywood artists, many of them Jewish, by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Union council plans to acknowledge the professional achievements of Butts in another way at Memorial Union.

In response to the study group report, the UW has committed up to $1 million to research and install a public history project “that will document and share the voices of those on campus who endured, fought, and overcame prejudice” throughout its history, Blank says. The university will also fund a proposal to hire a new faculty member in four progams: Afro-American Studies, American Indian Studies, Chican@/Latin@ Studies, and Asian American Studies.

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Play Time Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 Memorial Union opened its doors for the first time on October 5, 1928, which means that the facility will mark its 90th birthday this fall. The occasion will wrap up 13 months of celebration since the five-year-long Memorial Union Reinvestment — the building’s first major renovation — concluded in September 2017. Come to think of it, the Union has been something of a perpetual celebration: nine decades of fun and games. Here’s how play has and hasn’t changed over the years.



In the Union’s opening year, men play cards in Der Rathskeller. It was only men in those days — the Rath wouldn’t be open to women until 1941.

Historical black and white photo of students playing cards in the Memorial Union

UW Archives S0386


In the 1960s, campus had grown increasingly political, and the Union evolved along with the students. Union Director Porter Butts ’26 etired in 1968 and was replaced by Ted Crabb ’54, who served until 2001. But in Der Rathskeller, students still passed the time with card games.



U.S. Navy sailors mansplain a bowling ball to female students. During World War II, the Union’s dining facilities served more than 2,000 military personnel daily. But the drop in male students meant opportunity for women — the Union’s first female president, Carolyn Hall Sands ’44, was elected in 1943.


Two students experiment with human bowling in Memorial Union’s Tripp Commons. There was no real bowling in Memorial Union when it opened, and there isn’t any today. In 1939, eight lanes were added under the theater wing. They closed in 1970, shortly before Union South opened.



Foosball is older than the Union, having been invented in the United Kingdom in 1921. It reached peak popularity in the United States in the 1970s. Shorts were not to be seen in the Union until 1954, however, when a change to the dress code allowed shorts in the cafeteria and Der Rathskeller and on the Terrace.


Students play video games (Super Smash Bros. Brawl) in Der Rathskeller. Video games are a rarity in Memorial Union today. Arcade revenue declined from the 1980s into the 2000s, and the games room closed in 2008.



Pool tournaments were held in the old Billiards Room, which was part of the original Union. A remodel in 1962 turned the Billiards Room into Der Stiftskeller, and the pool tables were moved to the basement. They later came back.


Students play pool in Der Stiftskeller, which was named for a thousand-year-old restaurant in Salzburg, Austria. The murals were added to its walls in 1978.



Students play chess on the Terrace. The Union first made Terrace chairs available for purchase in 1982, though you can only buy red or white, not the traditional green, yellow, and orange.


A chess game enlivens an August evening on the Terrace. Some things change very little.

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Halloween Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 On the one night of the year when it’s perfectly acceptable to be someone (or something) else, there are sure to be just as many tricks as there are treats in Madison.

The city has a history of wild nights when Halloween weekend rolls around. Although the UW has hosted a number of spirited events, such as pumpkin carving and a costume ball at Memorial Union, the soul of Halloween in Madison has long been found on State Street.

Partygoers began flooding into the downtown hub starting in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, as many as 100,000 costumed people — students among them — would line the street and patronize its bars. With informal programming and little crowd control, the event spurred some revelers to set fires, damage property, start fights, and climb light poles. In 1983, a man tragically died after falling from a rooftop.

In 2006, the City of Madison sought to rein in Halloween’s more raucous antics by setting up Freakfest, the region’s largest Halloween festival. In its first year, the gated, ticketed event reduced the number of State Street arrests by nearly 200, from 334 to 148. By 2016, only 13 arrests were made.

Freakfest embraces live music: more than a dozen acts perform across three stages lining State Street. Country stars Kip Moore and Jon Pardi — along with pop groups MisterWives, OK Go, and Timeflies — are among the prominent musicians who have provided a soundtrack for the spooky night.

Although attendance has dropped to a more manageable 30,000 or so per year, there’s no shortage of excitement in the air when All Hallows’ Eve arrives. A summary from the 1982 Badger yearbook rings true today: “If the multitudes of partiers who flock to State Street every year have any say in the matter, rest assured there will never be an end to this most popular of holidays.”

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Home Field Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 Casting long shadows, students play soccer on the Near East Fields near Dejope Residence Hall. The fields are due for reconstruction by 2022 under the Rec Sports Master Plan.

Photo by Jeff Miller

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Alnisa Allgood Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:07 +0000 Alnisa Allgood

Courtesy Montae Creative

When Alnisa Allgood moved to Madison in 1991, she didn’t have much of a plan. She had studied chemical engineering at Penn State University on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, expecting to serve. But then she came out as gay. Discharge papers arrived before active duty called.

Allgood hitched a ride to Madison at a friend’s recommendation. She attended a meeting for the 10 Percent Society, a gay student organization, and learned about a years-long struggle to start an LGBT center on campus. Allgood, now an executive director of two nonprofit organizations in Madison, combined her passion for problem-solving and helping others to open the university’s LGBT center in 1992.

Over the years, the center has changed in structure (from a student-run organization to an administrative unit), location (from off campus, to the Memorial Union, to the Red Gym), and name (newly the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center). But its core purpose — to be a space for support and community — remains the same.

What inspired you to start the LGBT campus center?

The 10 Percent Society and other LGBT organizations were trying to get the LGBT center [started] the same way as the multicultural center — approved by the regents and funded through the [UW] System. I thought that was always a good thing to work toward, but that it could be another 20 years. I had read about other possibilities for funding a center, a mixture between student segregated fees and grants. So that’s what I did.

In an oral history with UW Archives, you said, “The first reaction was to go into protest mode as opposed to going into planning mode.” What did you mean by that?

Students had been fighting for [regents’ approval] for over 10 years. But just having a campus center would be a win, right? I went to the dean of students [Mary Rouse] and GLEMA, which was the Gay and Lesbian Ethnic Minority Association. I brought them my sketch outline of how it could get up and running. It moved pretty rapidly.

What were some of the original services?

We started talking to various professors and instructors about including [LGBT materials] into their curriculum. Back then it was important because it was hard to access good materials that had new research — not old theories of homosexuality being a mental illness. We also offered lesbian and gay fiction [in our lending library] so that students and the community could start feeling more comfortable with themselves.

Did you receive any public backlash when it opened?

When we were going after the student segregated fees, there were people who argued against us [with] things like, ‘Oh, money shouldn’t be spent on that type of sinful lifestyle.’ … We also had blackout blinds because some people were concerned about identity and people looking into the windows and trying to see who was part of the group. So we came up with protocols — you might even tell people to show up before the announced time, so that somebody’s not sitting there waiting to capture pictures.

The center seemed ahead of its time in terms of wider inclusivity. Why?

There weren’t a lot resources for lesbian and gay students of color. We wanted to make sure that the campus center was not just increasing LGBT visibility, but also [supporting] ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised communities within the LGBT community.

With growing acceptance of the LGBT community, does a center serve different needs today?

There are still people looking for a safe space to come out, though I would assume that’s drastically reduced. But I think there’s one thing that LGBT centers can still be of service [for]: a connection point — a reflection that there are other people in the world like me, and there are other people who are willing to be our allies in whatever the struggles are.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Preston Schmitt ’14

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Note-Able Feature Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:08 +0000 Worker on platform outside of building under construction

Jeff Miller

Those aren’t wagon wheels that passersby spotted earlier this year during construction of the Hamel Music Center at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. The so-called windows are sound chambers — part of a system that will help provide optimal acoustics in the building’s concert hall, recital hall, and rehearsal spaces. The $55.8 million project is funded solely with private money, including a $25 million gift from the Mead Witter Foundation.

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Sailing Through the Years Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:08 +0000 On a campus situated between two lakes, it’s only natural that students take advantage of the water. Just two years after the Hoofer Sailing Club formed in 1939, it already boasted more than 450 registered members. Today, UW–Madison students and community members still enjoy hopping into one of the club’s many boats to pick up a new skill. (For more, read “Learning to Sail.”) View scenes of the sailing club over the years since its inception.

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Learning to Sail Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:08 +0000 It was a gray Friday afternoon, cloudy and unusually chilly for September, with a heavy chance of rain. Most of the sailing classes offered through Wisconsin Hoofers had been canceled for the day — except for Jay Chan’s sailing lesson, which he prepared for eagerly despite the darkening skies.

Chan PhDx’22, who is studying physics, would soon hop in a sloop for a three-hour lesson with Edward LeBlanc, a physician’s assistant with UW Health and a first-year instructor for the Hoofer Sailing Club. During the summer, Chan and his friends had decided to learn to sail, and they’d had an initial lesson that covered terminology and sailing basics about three weeks earlier.

As he began to prepare the boat for the water, Chan looked back at his instructor for guidance.

“Do what you want to do,” LeBlanc said. “And if it’s wrong, I’ll teach you something else.”

Despite the fact that Lake Mendota is completely frozen for about a fourth of the year, the student sailing club sells more than 300 memberships annually. Program manager David Elsmo estimates that the number of students involved at any given time is much higher than that, and the group boasts nearly as many community members. At around $250 for an annual student pass, it’s one of the country’s most cost- effective sailing programs.

Newcomers start out in the chart room inside Memorial Union, getting acquainted with terms such as tacking (bringing the forward part of the boat through the wind) and jibing (the opposite maneuver). From there, they move on to the techs — the familiar yellow boats lined up along the lakeshore — or the keel boats, which are larger.

Experienced sailors can make their way through the fleet to the E Scow, which LeBlanc says is likely the fastest sailboat on Lake Mendota. But for beginners, he says, it’s essential to learn on the slower, smaller boats — to feel the spray of the water and take control of the motions.

Even the most advanced students can make too tight a turn and flip the boat. But at Hoofers, there’s a saying for that.

“The worst thing you can do is take a swim,” LeBlanc explains. “And that’s not the end of anything.”

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Henry Vilas Zoo Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:08 +0000 A pair of lion cubs, born in 2017, are a major draw, along with the zoo’s Arctic Passage exhibit — home to polar bears, grizzly bears, and harbor seals — which opened in 2015. The zoo opened in 1911, after William Vilas 1858, MA1886 and his wife, Anna, donated land for the public park that was named for their son Henry, who died in childhood due to complications from diabetes. American badgers Dekker and Kaminsky — namesakes of the two former Badger basketball stars — and a sandhill crane are featured in the Wisconsin Heritage exhibit, which highlights the state’s mining history. Free admission makes the zoo, located less than two miles from the UW–Madison campus, one of the city’s most popular attractions. Inside the Children’s Zoo, rides on the carousel and electric train cost $2 apiece.

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Asked and Answered Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:13:09 +0000 Students walk along pedestrian bridge with words "Wisconsin-Madison" engraved on side.

Jeff Miller

For years, UW–Madison has been committed to making sure all students feel welcome. Findings from a first-ever campuswide student climate survey suggest much is going well with the university’s social climate — but more can be done.

Most students from nearly all backgrounds said they find UW–Madison to be a safe, welcoming, and respectful place, one where they feel they belong. Most respondents indicated they value diversity and that it’s important to them that the university does, too.

However, challenges remain. Students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, while reporting generally positive experiences on campus, consistently rated the climate less favorably than students from majority groups.

80% of UW students feel welcome, safe, and respected “very or extremely often.”
11% of students reported personally experiencing hostile, harassing, or intimidating behavior while at UW–Madison.
72% of students stated that a strong commitment to diversity by the university was “very or extremely important” to them.

“As a person of color, I wasn’t necessarily surprised by any of the findings,” says Tiffany Ike x’18, who served on a campus task force that reviewed the findings. “It’s a predominantly white campus, so it makes sense that majority students would feel safe and welcome here, and others perhaps a little less so.”

University officials say the survey confirmed what they’ve long known anecdotally — that students often experience the campus differently based on their backgrounds. The survey task force, led by Vice Provost Patrick Sims and Dean of Students Lori Berquam, has recommended several steps, including continuing to invest in climate initiatives that have shown promise and increasing the ability of students, faculty, and staff to intervene in response to hostile and harassing behavior.

The survey was offered to students in fall 2016, and 21 percent responded. Findings were released in November 2017. View the full results.

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