The Badger Herald
The University of Wisconsin Police Department issued a crime warning Thursday about a sexual assault that occurred in the southern part of campus.
According to the crime warning, the assault occurred in the past 48 hours and is currently under investigation. The victim and suspect reportedly know each other.
At this time there is no more information available and UWPD could not immediately be reached for comment.
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Almost two years have passed since Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny fatally shot 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., and today the late teen’s family announced it is taking a $3.35 million settlement — the largest in state history for a case like this.
Family and friends of Robinson gathered with attorneys today at the state Capitol to address the community and media regarding the family’s civil rights case.
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According to Loevy & Loevy, the firm that represented Robinson’s family, the settlement is $1 million more than the previous record-setting settlement in the state for a police officer-involved shooting lawsuit.
Anand Swaminathan, one of the attorneys representing Robinson’s family in the case, said the settlement gives Robinson’s family vindication that the city was wrong in their case. But this doesn’t fill the void the family feels from the loss, Swaminathan said.
“The city would not have dared to pay that sum of money if they didn’t know that they were going to lose that trial,” Swaminathan said.
For Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, this money does not matter. She wanted the case to go to trial, but did not wish to put her children through the process.
Robinson was a brother, son, grandson and nephew and ultimately, a human being, Irwin said. Irwin said Robinson, who had reportedly consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms before the fatal shooting, doesn’t deserve harsh public criticism.
“My son deserves some form of peace,” Irwin said. “He’s gone and we don’t need to hear how much of a disgusting human being you guys think he is, and it’s not fair.”
Swaminathan commended the city’s decision to resolve the case rather than make the family relive the trauma of Robinson’s death with a trial. The city has also made policy changes regarding backup in policing situations, which will hopefully save lives, he said.
But Swaminathan said the public still doesn’t know the truth about what happened on the night of Robinson’s death. He said Kenny’s story was “demonstrably false” during the city’s investigative process, showing a broken investigative process.
Dan Frei, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, said in a statement the trial in this lawsuit would be Kenny’s time to confront the allegations made against him. Now that the city’s insurance company decided to pursue a settlement, Kenny will never be able to receive that chance.
Mayor Paul Soglin said the city of Madison had no influence on the settlement since it was recently dropped as a defendant from the lawsuit.
This settlement undermines Kenny’s service to the department, Frei said in the statement. It will also bring down morale at the department, he said.
The case’s conclusion leaves the public and all local governments still struggling to understand how police officers are to proceed in dangerous situations when substance-impaired individuals or individuals with mental health issues confront them, Soglin said.
But moving forward, Soglin holds faith the city of Madison, its police department and its residents will continue to find solutions.
“I do not suggest that we forget this event but I do recommend that we learn from the settlement and move forward to build a stronger, better community,” Soglin said.
The post Despite historically large settlement, family still ‘feels void’ from Tony Robinson’s death appeared first on The Badger Herald.
Nearly two years after the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, his family has finally settled a $3.35 million federal civil rights lawsuit.
Robinson, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Madison Police Department Officer Matthew Kenny outside of a Williamson Street apartment March 6, 2015.
The $3.35 million settlement marks the highest amount paid in the state for an officer-involved shooting suit, according to the law firm representing Robinson’s family.
Kenny was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. After an internal investigation, MPD found Kenny acted within the department’s Code of Conduct and Standard Operating Procedures.
The family’s attorneys announced the settlement Thursday morning.
According to the Associated Press, Kenny’s attorney Jim Palmer said he would’ve liked the civil case to go to trial so Kenny could further clear his name. MPD echoed a similar sentiment in a news release.
— Loevy & Loevy (@LoevyAndLoevy) February 23, 2017
“Chief [Mike] Koval and other department leaders had hoped the civil case would proceed to trial so Officer Kenny could be cleared in this additional venue, however they understand that attorneys, insurance providers and risk managers have reached a business decision based on factors other than the actual facts of the case,” the statement said.
The Madison Professional Police Officers Association called the settlement decision “outrageous.”
Dan Frei, president of the organization, said in a statement that settling this case equates to the city “throwing [Kenny] under the bus.”
Frei also claimed the settlement is likely to hurt the morale of MPD.
“The city’s insurance company shouldn’t risk compromising an officer’s credibility and reputation for the sake of its bottom line, particularly when that officer did their job in accordance with their training and the law,” he said.
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After being recently dismissed as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, MPD stated they were not involved in any negotiations of the case.
Kenny remains assigned to MPD’s Training Section and Mounted Patrol.
The Robinson family will hold a news conference Thursday afternoon. This post will be updated.
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As University of Wisconsin System officials across the board welcome Gov. Scott Walker’s recent push to invest in higher education after years of budget cuts, Chancellor Rebecca Blank highlighted some of the key items she plans to track in the next biennium.
In a blog post, Blank first thanked the governor for his commitment to reinvest in the system, particularly his willingness to restore $100 million worth of funding.
Overall, Blank said she was “very thankful” for the investment, but that’s not to say she is without concerns.
When coming to the nitty-gritty of the proposal, the UW chancellor voiced her hesitations in certain areas.
Blank highlighted six main areas of concern:
- Compensation plan for UW employees
- Performance-based funding
- Faculty workload reporting
- Segregated fees
- Academic freedom policy
- The capital budget
The ability for students to potentially opt out of segregated fees has been met with concern from various student organizations across campus. Along with students and faculty, Blank said the governor’s proposal may come with “unintended consequences” as it may reduce the availability of certain services and programs on campus, such as free bus passes and funding for the Rape Crisis center.
“We share the governor’s goal of keeping college affordable, but the proposal to let students opt-out of allocable segregated fees may … reduce the availability of needed services and programs,” Blank said in the post.
Along with allowing students to potentially opt out of allocable segregated fees, the governor also proposed a policy that would prevent students and faculty from being punished for sharing unpopular opinions.
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The Academic Freedom Policy, if passed, would codify in state statute a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression.
“It will be important to have a conversation with the Legislature on the impact of any differences between the proposed language and the existing policy,” Blank said, referring to a similar resolution the Board of Regents passed in 2015.
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When it came to Walker’s proposal for performance metrics, Blank said she agreed that certain measures are crucial in making sure the UW System is aligned with state goals, such as college affordability and strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce.
Instead of allowing the state to create these metrics, Blank said the measures would be handed down for the Board of Regents to handle. Blank also added that the system already measures performance.
“If there are additional factors the state would like tracked, we would be happy to work with them and the Board of Regents to make any needed changes,” Blank said.
Within his proposal, Walker also called for a general wage increase proposed for all state employees, however, there is a caveat.
The funding for the wage increase would come from savings generated from the state moving to a self-insurance model for health insurance, Blank said. While legislators are still questioning whether to move forward with the model, Blank said the funds for a wage increase for UW employees would not exist.
“I, along with System leadership, will encourage legislators to treat all state employees consistently for wage increases,” Blank said.
The budget proposals will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee later on, and a revised budget will be voted on by the Senate and the Assembly before Walker will sign it into law. The final budgetary decisions are expected to be done in June.
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An open chair town hall meeting scheduled at the First Congregational United Church of Christ took an unexpected turn when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who was invited to the event by his constituents, failed to make an appearance.
Originally, the Wednesday question-and-answer session between the Wisconsin senator and Madison-area voters was supposed to be held at the Middleton Public Library. When the event attracted an audience larger than expected, the hosts changed the venue.
Despite the absence of Johnson, Wisconsin citizens continued to voice their concerns and views on current political issues, directing it at a video live-stream that will later be presented to Johnson.
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Several speakers commented on the immediate absence of the senator, shouting phrases such as, “Your duty is to us, to represent all of us — not the Republican party of Donald Trump.”
Though many concerns and issues, such as gun control, funding for Planned Parenthood, LGBTQ+ rights and the environment, were directed at Johnson, three topics were repeated by several speakers: healthcare, President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia and fair representation of all citizens.
When Colleen Hartung of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin took the microphone, she first expressed to the camera, “I really hoped to speak to you about this in person,” before revealing three of her children have been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.
Hartung, like many speakers, expressed concern about loved ones, including veterans, senior citizens, people fighting addiction and young people starting off careers, having access to a meaningful form of healthcare.
Ted Gramski, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, proposed that Medicare be expanded to cover all people — which was met with widespread applause.
Throughout the meeting, several speakers, including Madison resident Mike Duncan, raised issue about the Trump administration.
“Mr. Trump is not mentally stable,” Duncan said.
Along with concern for Trump’s governing ability, several speakers voiced their desire for the president to release his tax returns for the purpose of uncovering any potential personal or business ties, particularly with Russia.
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Adding onto the critique of the Trump administration, Daniel Zinn, a University of Wisconsin student and member of UW Amnesty International, pointed to the president’s recent executive order. Taking a stance against the order, Zinn said the country needs to start taking in refugees and helping immigrants, especially those from predominantly Muslim countries.
Like Zinn, Shabnam Lotfi, a local immigration attorney, touched on the importance of helping immigrants. She said she has felt xenophobia against immigrants has risen since Trump’s election.
“Immigrants have been made the villain,” Lofti said.
Instead of looking at immigrants as the problem, Lofti said immigrants are part of the solution “to keep America moving forward.”
The meeting concluded with speakers encouraging citizens to actively engage their representatives so they can be able to sway political conversations.
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In the wake of the U.S. and Russia’s cyberwar, University of Wisconsin experts gathered Wednesday to discuss how these cyberattacks influenced the 2016 presidential election and what they mean for the two countries’ relations moving forward.
On Jan. 6, American intelligence agencies released a report claiming Russia was behind a cyber campaign meant to sway the election in favor of President Donald Trump, said UW sociology professor and Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia Director Ted Gerber. Russia was also blamed for cyber-attacks against former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, he added.
While there is no concrete proof that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind this campaign, the allegation itself has raised concerns for U.S.-Russian relations.
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There could be several reasons for Russia’s intervention in American elections, UW political science professor Scott Gehlbach said. The West meddling in Russian affairs with their democracy promotion programs irked Putin. Putin also blamed the West for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which increased tensions, he added.
The election was a chance for Putin to “get back” at the U.S., Gehlbach said. While there is no way to confirm this, it is plausible.
“This requires us looking into Putin’s brain, which is a tricky task,” Gehlbach said.
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Other reasons for the cyberwar include Russia using this campaign against the U.S. as a “distraction” from political turmoil brewing among its own people, Gehlbach said. Russians were trying to show that U.S. elections were rigged and unfair.
The most alarming reason behind the campaign could be that Russia wanted to infiltrate the American electoral system and elect a president who would be sympathetic to Russia, Gehlbach said.
But the campaign would have no overall effect on the legitimacy of the 2016 election, UW political science professor Yoshiko Herrera said. The hacks could have undermined people’s confidence in the fairness of the democratic process, however, which Gehlbech said Russians were possibly trying to do.
“The rhetoric after the election undermines the democratic process more than the election itself,” Herrera said.
Herrera said the campaign also highlights certain conflicts of interest within the U.S. government and between the U.S. and Russia. She said there is bipartisan consensus that Russia wants to undermine NATO and reduce America’s global influence.
The most “troublesome” factor is that Trump appears to be increasingly adopting pro-Russian policies. This could be indicative of conflict between Trump and his own administration, which poses a “serious threat,” Herrera said.
This, however, is not a signal of trust and support for Russia, but rather is a “strange” response to potential threat, Herrera said. Russia itself is not wholeheartedly embracing this newfound cooperation, but knows some is necessary.
Moving forward, Herrera said more work needs to be done to trace the hackers and any information they have leaked. But she said the hacking itself cannot be expected to stop because of its widespread and often uncontrollable nature.
“Every hacker is going to dream of hacking into MIT’s computers,” Herrera said. “This is going to happen under any U.S. administration and we’re going to have to live with it.”
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As the movement to reform the criminal justice system gains momentum at the local level, three experts came together for a panel to discuss the system in today’s society and what changes can be made to possibly improve it.
The Tuesday panel, titled “Rethinking Criminal Justice: Incarceration & Race,” hosted New York Times reporter and videographer Yamiche Alcindor, University of Wisconsin sociology professor Mike Massoglia and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
For Chisholm, now is an exciting time for analysis of the criminal justice system.
But before he could discuss the current state of the criminal justice system, Chisholm first discussed the linear “industrial fishing model” from the 1960s that sought to simply catch criminals and get them through the system.
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“The cops catch them, we cook them, the courts eat them and then Department of Corrections would hold them for a period of time before expelling them back into the community,” Chisholm said. “That was the model and, quite frankly, that is the model that exists in practice in the vast majority of the jurisdictions.”
While a student at UW, Chisholm attended a presentation where his predecessor imparted him with the idea the criminal justice system is a values-based system. He said he realized the prosecutor’s role was obligated to deal with crime on a per-case basis and to solve problems in the community.
Chisholm said The Vera Institute approached him to investigate whether the practices of the DA’s office were leading to disparities in the criminal justice system. This has not been replicated many times, he added.
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This led Chisholm to create greater solutions to problems the community was facing by addressing early interventions.
The prison system in the U.S. has increased as violent crime has decreased, Massoglia said. He added this is problematic when they look at the geographic and racial statistics of incarceration. Rates of incarceration, he said, are between five to eight times higher for black people than they are for white people.
“[The criminal justice system] is really changing the face of American inequality — and really American representation,” Massoglia said. “I would add Wisconsin as among the worst in terms of its racial disproportionality of incarceration and Dane County itself as among the most problematic counties in Wisconsin.”
Alcindor, who focuses on the impact of incarceration in her journalism career, said not only does she look at who is being incarcerated, but also at the effects it has on the communities of those people left behind when someone is incarcerated.
Along with the impact of incarceration, Alcindor evaluates fatal police shootings and how they affect the victims’ families. Most notably, she chronicled Tamir Rice’s sister, who had lost 50 pounds after her brother, a 12-year old black boy, was killed in a 2014 officer-involved shooting.
“I think about the conversations that we have about black men and them being in prison and we talk about them as if they came from these families that all their family members are in prison — when really their sisters could be getting Ph.D.’s,” Alcindor said. “And this idea that in those same families you could have someone who is completely rising to the occasion.”
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The potentially controversial race for the Wisconsin state superintendent of public instruction was narrowed on Tuesday after students and community members alike turned out to the polls to vote in the 2017 spring primary election.
Voters also decided who will compete for Seats 6 and 7 of the Madison Metropolitan School Board.Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers
Tony Evers is the incumbent candidate in this election. According to a column he penned for The Cap Times, Evers said schools throughout the state face challenges due to poverty and an increasing shortage of teachers. These issues are decades old, Evers said, and require consistent leadership. He said he has worked with people around the state to find common ground and address these issues and others like them.
The financial burden currently on communities to fund schools is unsustainable, he said. He added this is not a partisan issue and he is committed to ensuring public schools can provide for all students.
Lowell Holtz emerged from the February primary victorious over fellow conservative challenger John Humphries. Holtz will now face Evers in the general election.
Holtz identified three major areas in his platform he plans to address if he is elected to the position. The first area is to “advance and embrace local control.” Here, he said he plans to eliminate Common Core, an English-language and mathematics standardized test in the education system, which he says is not good for children. He also said he plans to support school choice for families.
Holtz also noted graduation rates and the achievement gap between white and black students as major areas in need of improvement in the state. During his time in Beloit, he was able to work with the community to decrease the achievement gap and increased achievement scores.
The final area of his plan is focused on empowering teachers in the state. Holtz said administrative burdens and a negative culture have driven teachers to leave the profession. He plans to collaborate with schools and teachers throughout the state to create safe environments in classrooms and give power back to teachers. Holtz said he has done this many times before in when he has led districts.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Holtz proposed to Humphries that one of them drop out of the race and receive a $150,000 taxpayer-funded job.
The job would be with the Department of Public Instruction if either Holtz or Humphries beat Evers in the general election. Holtz said this proposal was for the two to consider after the primary election, but Humphries disagreed with this. Humphries said Holtz meant for them to weigh in on the proposal before the primary election.
Several experts in the article said there are no state laws that prohibit such proposal. But DPI spokesperson Tom McCarthy said the powers in the proposal do not actually exist in the state law, according to the article.Madison School Board Seat 6 Ali Mudrow
As a former student in the Madison Metropolitan School District, Ali Muldrow said she plans to use her experiences as a student in the district to deal with the issues MMSD is facing, according to The Cap Times. Muldrow said she expects a push from the federal government to privatize education, according to the article. New funds for education, she added, will most likely be through vouchers and charter schools.
Schools are being underfunded at the state level, Muldrow said, and teachers are leaving the profession as well as the state. Muldrow said she will fight against these threats and work to keep schools well-resourced. Muldrow said she is supported by a diverse community, including Michael Flores, who is leaving his school board seat.Kate Toews
With prior experience in Boston Public Schools and in the business world, Mudrow’s contender, Kate Toews, is looking to recreate public education in Madison.
According to The Cap Times, the former BPS mediation services coordinator wants to combine her background in business management and conflict resolution to make sure money is being invested in the right places to create a “well-resourced district.”
One investment Toews sees as critical, is the need to support better working conditions for teachers. In investing in teachers, Toews said she believes it will create greater engagement between educators and their students.Madison School Board Seat 7 Ed Hughes
Incumbent candidate Ed Hughes said in a Cap Times article that the number one challenge is the achievement gap in the district. There is no simple solution to this problem, Hughes said, but focusing on attendance, enhanced family engagement practices and improving transition from fifth to sixth grade and eighth to ninth grade may help close the gap. Hughes said these efforts will require resources which he has previously been able to deliver. He helped pass a $26 million referendum and freed up $9 million for school use that was originally locked up in downtown developments.
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Growing up with a disability has never been a setback for juvenile defense attorney Nicki Vander Meulen. Now, she wants other students, regardless of their disabilities and circumstances, to feel the same way, according to The Cap Times.
With a background in juvenile law, Vander Meulen said she hopes to expand opportunities for students exhibiting at-risk behaviors. Primarily working with underrepresented students, she said she would like to reevaluate MMSD’s Behavior Education Plan and work on growing more peer mentoring and restorative justice initiatives within the district.
Instead of using the “same measure” for the entire classroom, Vander Meulen wants to urge educators to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student.
All of the candidates will compete for their respective seats April 4 in the general election.
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BOSTON — While President Donald Trump seeks to reframe what American popular culture understands fake news to be, scientists are taking matters into their own hands.
Three leading researchers of science communication — including one from the University of Wisconsin — served on a panel discussing social media and fake news at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston over the weekend.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Offering insight from one end of the spectrum, Julie Coiro, an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island asserted a major component of curbing the spread of fake news is implementing strong media literacy education for students as early as elementary school.
Citing a study surveying 2,700 students between the ages of 11 and 18, Coiro demonstrated how today’s students aren’t equipped to analyze news sources.
She noted research also suggests many college students and even adults well beyond the age of matriculation still struggle with determining the legitimacy of a news source or identifying mainstream media outlets.
“This is hard, even for adults,” Coiro said. “It takes a lot of cognitive effort. Who wants to stop — when we can click so quickly — to actually think, ‘Wait a minute, who wrote this, and what does that mean for the information that’s on this page?’”
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Conversely, Dominique Brossard, a UW life sciences communications professor, argued science journalists and publications are not without blame for the spread of misinformation.
To illustrate her point, Brossard presented headlines from two publications, MIT Review and Science Magazine, both covering the same scientific event.
The MIT Review, a publication of a major research university, wrote “U.S. Panel Endorses Designer Babies to Avoid Serious Disease,” while Science Magazine, which is more geared toward reaching a popular audience, wrote “U.S. scientists back gene editing but warn against ‘designer babies'”
In this scenario, MIT Review, seen as the more reliable of the two, made a “glaring error” in stating scientists endorsed the practice of designer babies when that was not true, Brossard said. Carelessness like that in headlines, she said, is where science journalism is spreading misinformation to the public.
But Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School, presented evidence that the problem isn’t a matter of the public being presented with fake news — it’s a matter of many people with high numeracy, or training in high levels of science reasoning, that is leading to a more polarized information environment.
These people with high numeracy, Kahan explained, are better at rationalizing data away. And so, when presented with information that contradicts their world perspective, they tend to disregard it and feel more strongly about their original position. This polarization effect can be seen in topics ranging from opinions on gun control to fracking and climate change.
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“Now, this is what I want to say about the fake news at this point: You wouldn’t expect to see these kinds of results unless people were the culturally motivated reasoners that I’m talking about,” Kahan said. “Nobody gave them any misinformation in this study, they were misinforming themselves about the data.”
Still, even in light of this stark perspective, Brossard had three suggestions for those tasked with communicating science to the public.
One, that scientists do their best to work and cooperate with journalists so that they can get the facts right.
“Journalists tend to make science way more certain than it is,” Brossard said.
Two, Brossard suggested research universities and institutions implement damage control to address circumstances where their science is taken out of context. Similar to the damage control major corporations to protect their image, Brossard wants to see those charged with disseminating science take as much care to concern themselves with ensuring the truth is protected.
Finally, Brossard said she would like to see the search engines of the world, including the likes of Google, remove retracted studies from the wider internet so they cannot be used to spread misinformation or be used for “nefarious reasons.”
While misinformation in science communication is not new, Trump does give special cause for concern to the field, Kahan said.
“Here’s the special danger of Donald Trump,” Kahan said. “He can’t be ignored … he’s the president of the United States, he’s going to get publicity for his statements, ones that he knows will end up dividing people. And the temptation is always to fight back.”
But this temptation to fight back over a contested science issue creates this impression that the topic is an it’s “us” versus “them,” Kahan said
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When something like a contested science issue is presented to the general public, people end up not trying to understand the dimensions of an argument, but instead attempt to determine which side of the argument they should be on given who they believe themselves to be within this “social construct,” Kahan said.
Trump’s use of this technique, Kahan said, is polluting the science communication environment and dividing the public.
“[It’s] the cancer on the body politic of the enlightened democracy,” Kahan said. “He’s making us more and more confused about what the best evidence is.”
To fight this growing cancer, Coiro suggested supporting young students to be critical producers of online information as well as critical consumers of it.
In learning how to become both, Coiro said culture will be able to move toward understanding the story as a whole.
“We’ve gotten into such a culture of persuasion and trying to enforce how good our ideas are and how bad somebody else’s is, rather than the Finish word for argumentation, which is this notion of ‘to learn,’” Coiro said. “It is not to persuade, it is to teach you about the whole context and both sides.”
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Known among his friends and colleagues as an inspiring, down-to-earth man, Clyde Stubblefield contributed more to the world and to Wisconsin’s legacy than just his music.
Stubblefield, who died Friday at the age of 73 from kidney disease, was set to receive an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin in May for his contribution to music. Despite his passing, UW Committee on Honorary Degrees will still award the degree to him posthumously, said Thomas Strader, UW College of Engineering honorary associate fellow.
Stubblefield was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but moved to Madison in the late ’70s, UW jazz and bass instructor Nick Moran said. Stubblefield’s drumming for musician James Brown put him on the map after one of their songs, “Funky Drummer,” gained popularity with other musicians around the world.
“[‘Funky Drummer’ was] one of the best of all time,” Moran said.
Though Stubblefield never received recognition for his work on “Funky Drummer,” he continued to perform in shows around Madison with Brown, particularly for large crowds at the Memorial Union Terrace, Moran said. Stubblefield and Moran began working closely together after the latter moved to Madison.
Stubblefield also performed on Wisconsin Public Radio from the early 1990s to 2015. Rolling Stone also named him Drummer of the Year in 1990, Moran said.
Moran said he worked with Stubblefield in “all capacities” and never met someone as down to earth as Stubblefield. Strader said he performed with Stubblefield as well and believes no one deserves the honorary degree more than him.
“[Stubblefield] was the most welcoming, humble person and musician,” Strader said. “He motivated me to do what I did and he was a great person.”
Transgender students face added pressures pursuing higher education while UW organizations look to help
For James Van Able, being transgender on a University of Wisconsin System campus means questioning day-to-day actions like using the restroom or walking from class to class.
“That forever fear of ‘what do I pass as right now?’” Van Able said. “Do I pass as anything? Who sees me as what? Who’s going to be accepting of this?”
Van Able, a Madison resident, recent University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate and transgender male, said as a student the experience was “pretty ok,” as long as he could find a safe place to go.
While most professors did the best they could, Van Able said overall, people do not have the necessary experience or education when understanding the transgender populations.
According to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, about 1.4 million adults 18 and older in the U.S. identify as transgender. For young adults, 0.7 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds identify as transgender.
Katherine Briggs, interim associate director of the LGBT Campus Center, said while UW tries to provide inclusive services and opportunities for all students, some gaps remain.
Understanding personal preferences
Briggs said the university has established a preferred name policy, which allows students to indicate the name they prefer to use on campus regardless of whether or not they’ve changed their name legally.
“That forever fear of ‘what do I pass as right now?’ Do I pass as anything? Who sees me as what? Who’s going to be accepting of this?”James Van AbleAccording to the Office of the Registrar, UW established the policy in fall 2013 to let faculty, staff and students use their preferred names wherever legal names are not absolutely necessary. But legal names are still used on financial aid documents, payroll, official transcripts, diplomas and federal immigration documents.
Steve Starkey, the executive director of OutReach, the LGBT community center for South Central Wisconsin, said personal pronouns are crucial for transgender individuals to feel understood.
“[Pronoun use is] very important in terms of them feeling welcome and feeling that they are not being misgendered and not being disrespected,” Starkey said.
Briggs said transgender students have access to all the same services as cisgender students, so it’s important for all resources to be inclusive. A cisgender individual is someone whose personal identity or gender correlates to their birth sex. Transgender students face the same issues as their peers, on top of having to navigate UW through a “trans lens.”
“A lot of the struggles are the same, so like roommates and classes and balancing job and work and that kind of thing,” Briggs said. “There is the trans lens on top of that which means also thinking about who are you out to at any given point, what programs or systems allow you to designate your gender on a form or your pronouns when they’re collecting information.”
Outside of these thoughts, Briggs said many transgender students also need to think about who they can confide in, their representation in curricula and if people will respect their personal pronouns.
According to information given to The Badger Herald, University Housing has worked to add more gender-neutral bathrooms. New buildings have one gender-neutral restroom per floor, as do renovated buildings where possible. But many academic and residential buildings on campus don’t have any gender-neutral bathrooms.
At Phillips Residence Hall there is also Open House, a gender learning community that provides more inclusive living arrangements.
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To help educate students, Starkey said every spring OutReach meets with every section of human sexuality classes at UW. During the panel they have different speakers of various races, ages, socioeconomic statuses, sexual preferences and gender orientations.
“So they get an understanding that our community is diverse and that we’re not one monolithic,” Starkey said. “We don’t all look like Will from ‘Will & Grace.’”
Overall, Starkey said many people accept lesbian and gay individuals, but when it comes to transgender issues, it can be challenging for many to understand since it is an umbrella term that can include male to female, female to male, genderqueer, drag performers and people who crossdress. He said even people at OutReach can struggle to remember the various pronouns.
Van Able changed his name midway through his time at school and most people were able to transition to the new name and pronouns. But many still didn’t understand various terms or how to work with transgender students.
“A lot of times there are weird flub-ups with terminology or kinda being awkward about it,” Van Able said.
Tackling transgender-focused health care
When looking back at his college experience, Van Able said health care and counseling is one of the largest areas that needed improvement. When he started taking testosterone injections, there was not too much the health and counseling professionals could do to help him cope with the strain.
“We don’t all look like Will from ‘Will & Grace.’”Steve StarkeyAccording to research from the Williams Institute at UCLA, 70 percent of 17,105 respondents across 23 countries agreed transgender people should be allowed to have gender-affirming surgery. A majority also agreed people should be able to change the sex listed on identity documents.
Outside of the transitioning process, Van Able said the experience of being transgender greatly shapes individuals’ mental health. He said there is a lot of depression and anxiety among the transgender community.
“A lot of mental health concerns happening all at the same time and then when you’re on campus, feeling always worried about how you look, how you’re passing, all the stress of school working, having to work one or two jobs,” Van Able said. “It’s very, very overwhelming.”
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Shannon Juniper Neimeko, an associate counselor at University Health Services, was hired specifically to have a transgender health focus for students on campus. She said the university is currently trying to improve access and transparency to health care for LGBTQ+ students.
Neimeko said at UHS there are many mental health counselors who focus on gender identity concerns and hold psychosocial consults for individuals interested in hormone replacement therapy. UHS also hosts the LGBTQ Support and Empowerment group, which meets a couple times a week.
Overall, Neimeko said minority stress causes many health disparities among transgender populations. Many people have to overcome personal barriers from past negative experiences.
“[I don’t want to] pathologize the experience of transgender, nonconforming students because there is an amazing amount of resilience in the population,” Neimeko said.
Starkey also said there are few transgender-specific health services available. Many insurance companies don’t offer transgender health care coverage and hormone therapy is not always available.
Starkey said OutReach has many clients looking for competent doctors. Recently, he said there was a female to male transgender person who went to Meriter Hospital, and the doctor refused to use the male name and sent the individual home. Two weeks later, they had to undergo gallbladder surgery.
“If you look at what’s lacking for LGBT people, and especially transgender people, that a big problem is access to trans-inclusive health care that’s affordable, and access to doctors that are competent and supportive,” Starkey said.
Providing inclusive access and safe spaces
Starkey said a lot of transgender individuals are ostracized, bullied or teased because of the way they look.
“Coming [to Madison] there’s definitely more spirit of acceptance, you see more diversity, it’s a lot more visible, trans, nonbinary communities just around,” Van Able said.
Overall, Starkey said there are a lot more opportunities in Madison than in smaller, rural communities.
Outside of the campus center, Briggs said other student life offices try to make safe spaces where students can feel seen and heard. But if students don’t know how to access services, they might as well not exist.
“This campus is really interesting, because in some ways it is really progressive and accepting, in other ways it’s not, which is going to be the case anywhere,” Briggs said.
One challenge on campus is bathroom use. For Van Able, it was always terrifying to use the bathroom. Briggs said even with all-gender inclusive bathrooms, many transgender or nonbinary people want to use regular bathrooms.
“Your experience is just going to be so much better if you have a group of friends or community that feels like a family.”Katherine BriggsCurrently, Briggs said there are no policies in place on restroom use or provisions. Campus also does not have guidelines or building codes for new building projects or renovations.
Briggs said they have been working with Rec Sports to include gender-neutral spaces in the new Southeast Recreational Facility.
Briggs said the university also plans to make a committee with student participation that will work to make guidelines.
One of the LGBT Campus Center’s biggest concerns though, Briggs said, is to connect all individuals to a community.
“Your experience is just going to be so much better if you have a group of friends or community that feels like a family,” Briggs said.
In the classroom, Briggs highlights the importance of faculty and instructional staff. Briggs said advocates for the LGBTQ+ community can have a make-or-break impact. The LGBT Campus Centers offers services to train and consult individuals on campus, as does OutReach.
“Being neutral supports the status quo and the status quo is always negative for marginalized people,” Briggs said. “The more they can show up for their students, the bigger difference it can make.”
As Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget moves through the state Legislature, Associated Students of Madison has one chief concern.
That’s Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to make segregated fees — which all students pay to support certain campus groups and services — optional.
Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his budget proposal earlier this month. It will soon go to the Joint Finance Committee, which digs deeper and edits it, ASM Legislative Affairs Committee Chair Sally Rohrer said. Joint Finance Committee works on it until May or June, after which it is presented to Walker to sign.
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As the finance committee deliberates on the proposal, ASM’s Legislative Affairs Committee lobbies for specific issues it believes will significantly impact students. Student Services Finance Committee member Zaakir Abdul-Wahid said a lot of this lobbying is based on grassroots efforts from within ASM and around campus.
Grassroots efforts involve students taking their concerns to ASM, and ASM then working toward bringing these to administration and legislators. ASM committees also support student campaigns like the Fund Our UW campaign, Abdul-Wahid said.
“Lobbying Days” is another effort that involves students from different UW System schools who go and talk to individual legislators about the importance of funding and the impact it has on student services.
Grassroots organizing in UW relies heavily on how ASM, students and budgetmakers communicate with each other, Abdul-Wahid said. But the communication process between Joint Finance Committee, Walker and ASM is “long” and “monotonous,” he said.
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“As much as we can say it and as much as we can protest, it’s so hard for our opinions to actually translate to increased funding,” Abdul-Wahid said. “Our core beliefs are not reflected in what legislators create for us, and that’s the challenge that comes convincing them that we need this.”
The lack of communication in turn impacts how UW lobbies because fewer students are aware of budget process. This lack of campus awareness limits the grassroots organizing ASM can do, Abdul-Wahid said.
Rohrer said there is also a disconnect between administration and student budget priorities. For instance, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank supports an increase for in-state tuition, which ASM opposes. Rohrer said it is also concerning Blank has not released an official statement on Walker’s proposal to make segregated fees optional.
“We obviously are working on the budget as students and [Blank and UW System] are working on it as administration or Board of Regents,” Rohrer said. “But while we have similar motives, our priorities are fundamentally different.”
Rohrer said ASM’s biggest concern this budgeting cycle is Walker’s segregated fees proposal. Other concerns include making 60 percent of degree programs three years long by 2020 and tying funding for the UW System to performance metrics. She said both these measures could potentially diminish liberal arts education while favoring science, technology, engineering, math and business programs.
Rohrer said false information, like some legislators’ claims that ASM favors liberals despite its status as a neutral organization, makes it difficult to show legislators what UW needs.
ASM spokesperson Jason Klein said ASM is focused on reaching out to individual state legislators, particularly JFC members. ASM also held a lobbying training session that informed people on how they can assist ASM’s efforts.
“It’s really going to be best if this is not an ASM issue, because it isn’t,” Klein said. “It’s a student issue in general. It would be so much better if other student organizations and services that benefit from this money could come together and show legislators that these services are vital to the student body.”
Avery Aurand contributed to reporting this article.
Republican state legislators proposed bill would limit abortion services to public sector employees, which has raised concerns from women’s reproductive health advocates.
Currently, the state Group Insurance Board provides abortion services at any time during a pregnancy. The bill, which Sen. David Craig, R-Vernon, and Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, introduced the first week of February, will prevent GIB from contracting or paying for abortion services, Jacque said in a co-sponsorship memo.
If passed, the 250,000 public sector employees GIB covers will need to pay for their own abortion services, unless it is a case of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.
Wisconsin law prohibits Medicaid and Affordable Care Act from covering the cost of abortion services, Matt Sande, Pro-Life Wisconsin legislative director, said.
State Rep. Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, said the bill will provide “equity” so that “taxpayers are not funding abortions for any group of people in Wisconsin.”
“[This bill] goes in line with the same type of thought — if we’re not allowing people on Medicare to use insurance to purchase abortions, why would we allow government employees to do the same thing?” Tusler said.
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Tusler said the bill is different from past legislation defunding clinic abortion services in that this bill is not stopping anyone from getting an abortion. It is simply removing abortion from insurance plans and stopping tax money from going toward abortions. People can still get abortions but they will not be insured.
But state Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said in a statement the bill interferes with women’s access to reproductive health care and “decisions that should be made by a woman and her doctor.” She said the bill “throw[s] women under the bus.”
“Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for putting women’s health and safety in jeopardy,” Subeck said.
A similar bill was introduced in 2013 before dying in the state Senate. But this time Tusler said he expects the bill to pass because of wider support in the Legislature.
Anti-abortion groups Pro-Life Wisconsin and Right to Life Wisconsin expressed their support for the bill and the idea that taxpayer dollars should not be funding abortions. Sande said though abortion is a legal right, it is not the government’s responsibility to fund it.
“If you object to abortion, you should not have your taxpayer dollars going to such a practice,” Chelsea Shields, Wisconsin Right to Life legislative director, said.
In an email to The Badger Herald, Nicole Safar, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, called blocking women from safe, legal abortions “shameful.”
Legislators should focus on their job creation promises and stop working to end insurance coverage for important medical care, Safar said.
“Abortion is a deeply personal medical decision that should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, her family and her faith,” Safar said.
Both Shields and Sande agree pro-life taxpayers shouldn’t have to compromise their conscience by funding abortion services. Sande said in addition to protecting people’s conscience rights Pro-Life Wisconsin wants to see the state move forward with encouraging alternatives to abortion, like easing adoption processes.
Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life have asked legislators to sign on as co-sponsors to the bill. Tusler said the campaign to co-sponsor the bill has been “strong.”
“I feel there’s strong public support and a strong co-sponsorship,” Sande said. “And you will see action on this bill.”
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The bill is currently moving through the state Assembly.
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As scientists work to make driverless vehicles a reality, University of Wisconsin moves to prepare the state to become their testing ground.
Wisconsin was designated a testing ground for autonomous vehicles last month. UW collaborated with the Madison City Council, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and various companies in the state to submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation in December last year for this designation.
There are only nine other states that received approval to test AVs.
Wisconsin’s AV testing grounds includes 400 acres of roadways and crash-testing facilities originally built as a testing ground for American Motors cars. Now Google, Tesla and other such auto-manufacturers use them. They are private and secure testing areas, Jon Riehl, transportation systems engineer at UW Traffic Operations and Safety Lab, said.
Wisconsin’s testing grounds also look to ensure optimum AV efficiency and safety. The transition period to such vehicles would be at least 10 years, Peter Rafferty, a transportation researcher in UW’s civil and environmental engineering department, said.
Researchers have focused on developing AVs and other driverless vehicles for a decade now, and they have studied the theoretical aspects of the technology and its safety extensively, Riehl said. Now, it is time to work on its implementation.
Riehl said AVs will be the future of transportation.
“If we really go back, since we had the horse and buggy to the combustion engine, that was a huge change,” Riehl said. “Since then we have been looking to automate systems.”
Manual cars have nearly been phased out across the nation. Technology has advanced enough to automate almost all parts of cars, starting with its braking system. The hardest part was determining whether the vehicle can think on its own and make its own decisions, which came later, Riehl said.
An AV does everything on its own, Riehl said.
The Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of automation from zero to five. Level 0 vehicles hardly have any automated features, while level 5 vehicles are fully autonomous or driverless. Researchers are working toward developing level 5 cars, which will involve extensive artificial intelligence. Some circumstances can be programmed and fixed for the vehicle, but it will still need to learn and adapt on the go, Rafferty said.
“When we talk about automated vehicles, automated features, autonomous or fully driverless vehicles, it can mean a lot of different things,” Rafferty said.
Level 1 and 2 vehicles are available for consumers. Tesla autopilot vehicles are a good example of level 2, which are partially automated vehicles, Rafferty said. In these types of vehicles, the driver is expected to be attentive and ready to take over when something happens.
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Rafferty said while there have been videos on YouTube of actors in Tesla autopilot vehicles playing cards or sleeping in the drivers seat, few such instances have lead to crashes. Rafferty believes AV technology could actually make driving, walking and biking safer because inattentive drivers would not be a problem.
But there is still a long way to go, and AVs still can’t operate in rain or in snow.
“It is a real challenge to get these things to operate everywhere at all times,” Rafferty said.
Advances in robotics or machine vision and different sensing technologies could help the vehicle make good decisions on the go, Rafferty said.
Weather conditions are not the only challenges researchers are working through. The patchy regulatory framework across different states in the country is difficult to work with as well. Wisconsin is one of the only states in the legal “gray area,” meaning no law explicitly prohibits the operation of AVs, but nothing explicitly allows it either, Rafferty said.
Assigning liability and culpability is another area the AV testing grounds team is working on. The Department of Motor Vehicles in each state will register these vehicles and ensure they meet the Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards. Law enforcement bodies like the state police should be on board as well, since they need to know what they are dealing with, Rafferty said.
Riehl said it is important to understand how law enforcement can pull over an autonomous vehicle. Questions like whether or not it would be a passenger’s fault or the car’s if someone is asleep at the wheel when a violation occurs remain.
AVs will be under a lot of scrutiny, possibly more than vehicles that now have drivers in them, Riehl said. He said once these vehicles prove themselves in the testing grounds, they will be brought into the campus and city.
Rafferty said the next step would be to introduce these to UW and Epic’s Verona campus. Autonomous shuttles could replace human-driven passenger vans on Epic’s campus in the future.
For a short term demonstration, one of these AVs could be on campus later this year. But this depends on industry partnerships, state support and funding resources, Rafferty said.
There is an ongoing debate about AVs’ environmental and social implications. For the community, AVs are a general improvement because it reduces human work, Riehl said. But AVs can be expensive, and taxi and truck drivers could lose their jobs, Riehl said.
Riehl said it is important to account for these societal differences when developing this technology.
“In 30 to 40 years, it will all be autonomous vehicles, and land use will have to change accordingly,” Rafferty said. “We all have to start thinking about it now, before it comes.”
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University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the threat of invasive species like Starry Stonewort on Wisconsin’s lakes and the region’s aquatic ecosystems.
Invasive species are defined as non-native plants, pathogens and animals that take over a specific region and have the potential to out-compete local organisms. Paul Skawinski, Citizen Lake Monitoring Network educator at UW-Stevens Point, said one such species is the Starry Stonewort, an aquatic organism posing an emerging threat to Wisconsin lakes.
Starry Stonewort is a large algae found in lakes native to Europe and Asia, Skawinski said. It was recently discovered in Waukesha County, and has since spread to seven other confirmed bodies of water in Wisconsin, including Little and Big Muskego lakes, Long Lake, Silver Lake and Pike Lake in Washington County.
Skawinski said the species exhibits robust growth and can reach up to 2 meters in height. The growth and effects of invasive species in lakes varies depending on the properties of the specific body of water. Despite geographical differences, invasive species generally threaten fish populations, water safety conditions, ecological diversity and local economies.
Scientific studies, however, have not yet determined the concrete causal effects of Starry Stonewort, Skawinski said.
“There hasn’t been actual research or studies to prove [an effect],” Skawinski said. “There is a missing link.”
Carol Warden, a researcher at UW-Madison Trout Lake Station, said factors behind the growth of the species are also unclear. Scientists still need to identify which effects they predict, as well as the Starry Stonewort growth rate in Wisconsin lakes.
Despite inconclusive effects, Warden said local efforts to diminish the spread of Starry Stonewort are important.
“People are the biggest factor for how things move, lake to lake,” Warden said.
Educating recreational boat users is a key part of decreasing the spread of any invasive species. Skawinski said the best way to prevent the spread of Starry Stonewort is to make sure boat equipment is clean.
Warden said Wisconsin state laws require boat users to follow specific decontamination procedures to remove any organisms.
Warden said “clean, drain, dry” are the three basic steps the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires.
Invasive species, such as Starry Stonewort threaten the natural beauty of Madison and Wisconsin’s lakes. Additionally, the expansion of the species may inflict increasing costs on city and state governments to manage plant treatment and removal, Warden said.
Warden emphasized the responsibility is deeper than simple legal obligations.
“Put it in the perspective of being good people,” Warden said. “We care about our resources, we care about our lakes.”
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As a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin, the founder of the Infamous Mothers organization and a mother of six, Sagashus Levingston is reshaping the concept of motherhood.
Levingston grew up on the South Side of Chicago, attended Catholic school and a private boarding high school. She went on to graduate from the University of Illinois with an undergraduate degree in English.
She earned her master’s degree from UW in Afro-American studies through the Bridge Program in the English department. The program allows English doctoral candidates to specialize in Afro-American studies as well. Levingston is currently working toward her Ph.D. in literature.
Levingston researches the experiences of mothers, taking a rhetorical approach to literature. She said her interest in this research came after taking a class on global feminism.
The class was her first exposure to feminism and was a positive experience. It gave context to her experiences as a woman, but it was not addressing women like her, she said.
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Levingston described herself as someone outside of normal constructions of respectability. Calling herself “black, single, bald-headed [and has] a lot of kids by a lot of different men,” she noticed there was hardly any literature highlighting single mothers and their lives.
So Levingston decided to focus her research on filling that gap.
“[My research] became about marginalized moms making a difference in the world, giving back to the system,” Levingston said.
Levingston wrote about these topics in her dissertation “Infamous Mothers: Bad Moms Doing Extraordinary Things” and in an archival book “Infamous Mothers.” Coming out in April 2017, the book collects stories and personal experiences of moms in Madison.
In addition to writing and researching, Levingston serves mothers directly through Infamous Mothers, an organization she created to empower women in the community. The organization offers personal and professional development training for mothers, community events, publications and a space for identity.
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Levingston said the organization seeks to support women in their daily lives and change societal perception of marginalized mothers.
“I wanted to help them speak their truth and not be penalized for it,” Levingston said.
Through the development training, Levingston helps women develop plans for managing the stresses of motherhood.
While Levingston works alongside social workers and doctors, she makes sure mothers get to stay the experts on their own lives.
In addition to helping moms, the organization tries to inform “people who shape the realities of these moms,” Levingston said. She engages with the public through trainings and speaking events to bring up the complexity of issues many Infamous Mothers are facing.
“You can’t change the conversation if you don’t have the conversation,” Levingston said.
Levingston also discussed the importance of taking classes that encourage learning about people’s experiences and perspectives. She said classes in technology, science and business are important because they move society forward but added they may only be looking at one set of issues.
Gender and women’s studies, ethnic studies and humanities courses should not be optional, Levingston said.
“[By learning about culture and identity], you can create technology, business and medicine to address a larger array of interest,” Levingston said.
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University of Wisconsin Memorial Union directors proposed their 2017-18 budget to the Student Services Finance Committee Monday.
The Memorial Union leadership team director Mark Guthier proposed a 1 percent increase in student segregated fees to address the deficit that has built up during delayed construction at Memorial Union.
The original deficit was $2.5 million, but additional revenue from special events decreased it by $1.7 million.
By hosting more activities like two evenings of free films and live music four nights a week, Guthier said they hope to reduce the remaining deficit.
Guthier said they anticipate completely finishing construction on the terrace by fall 2017. He said they are planning big events for the popular community gathering space this summer, including an expanded stage, and he hopes to schedule larger named artists during the summer months.
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Jane Oberdorf, assistant director at the Memorial Union, said students could face modest price increases in food at the Union. SSFC Rep. Brooke Evans questioned these rising prices, but Oberdorf said asking for a modest increase now could prevent more dramatic ones in the future.
Despite a few cutbacks in Union personnel and temporary closures of some campus cafés, Guthier said Memorial Union’s outlook is still positive.
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University of Wisconsin Dean of Students Lori Berquam outlined plans to expand the Our Wisconsin diversity training program to include all incoming students attending Student Orientation, Advising and Registration in a telephone conference Monday.
Our Wisconsin, an initiative designed to improve the campus racial climate through student- and faculty-led cultural competency workshops, will expand to cover all 7,000 students who attend SOAR. Berquam said the most recent campus climate progress report shows the initiative has been successful in improving student outlooks toward diversity on campus.
The $80,000 expansion, approved by UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank, calls for hiring an additional full-time staff member and more student and faculty facilitators to lead workshops. Students will still be able to opt out of the program, but Berquam said few students choose not to participate in optional SOAR programing. Previously, Our Wisconsin had a budget of $240,000.
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The Our Wisconsin program will now be divided into two phases — an inclusion program during SOAR, followed by a three-hour Our Wisconsin workshop that will place in residence hall communities in the first two weeks of class.
“The tenants of both are to introduce students to communities in UW-Madison and to build a framework for inclusivity that we want for all of our students,” Berquam said.
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The logic behind having the program earlier in the year, Berquam said, is that students will be more likely to attend the second session if they don’t have to deal with mounting academic pressures that come later in the year.
Berquam said the initiative shows promise, and cited an increase in participants being comfortable about having conversations about race. Preworkshop and postworkshop assessments showed an increase from 12 to 19 percent of respondents who strongly agreed they would have more conversations about race.
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Providing snacks and reducing the lengths of workshops were the most frequent comments left by participants, according to the 2016 Our Wisconsin Executive Summary. Berquam said UW addressed this by splitting the program into two phases, totalling four hours rather than the original five-hour program.
The program is not limited to promoting race-inclusivity, Berquam said.
“[Our Wisconsin promotes] differences of all types, differences of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, but also differences of political [views], religion and ethnicities,” Berquam said. “It involves race, but it isn’t just race.”
Students interested in becoming an Our Wisconsin facilitator can apply here.
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As part of the the University of Wisconsin Multicultural Center’s ongoing festivities of Black History Month, the campus welcomed poet Nikki Giovanni as the celebration’s keynote speaker.
Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, educator and activist within the black community, spoke about black empowerment throughout history and in her own career as a writer Wednesday at Gordon Dining and Event Center.
As February is Black History Month, MSC has celebrated it with themes of Black Joy and getting “black to happiness.”
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Giovanni kicked off the lecture by discussing black history, specifically black women’s history. She also reflected upon the Trump Administration and dealing with prejudice and racism, reminding listeners about the need for self-love.
She also criticized President Donald Trump as a “coward and a fool” and said keeping people a part leads to general divisiveness.
She described black people’s experiences with slavery, and how they were put on ships to America. Black people have been historically left behind, or as Giovanni states “thrown in the water.”
“The first thing [black women] probably understood was ‘sold,’” Giovanni said. “We were forced to have children and those children were taken away from us … We had to find a way to deal with it.”
No one comes from the same language, Giovanni said. She said there is no such thing as a single African language because of the continent’s diversity of backgrounds. From the difficulty of finding a common language, they found a way to cope, she said.
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She spoke about how this history has influenced black joy and advised attendees to embrace themselves as part of finding black joy.
“I’m very proud for black joy because black joy is black will,” she said. “I’m very proud that we are here, working our way through life because that’s all you gotta do.”
But, black people continue to face racism and hatred to this day, Giovanni said.
She told students to hold onto themselves in a prejudiced world.
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“There’s one black person here who would be a friend to a white person and there’s one white person who would be a friend to a black person,” she said. “So, your job is to never let fools keep you from finding a friend.”
On a positive note, she said black women can be a source of brilliance and imagination, especially in the fields of science. Because of black history, Giovanni said she is confident black people are strong enough to handle anything.
Giovanni finished with three short poems about her childhood, her grandmother and civil rights movements and her love of gameshows.
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In the battle to fight racial disparities, Dane County Equity and Criminal Justice Coordinator Colleen Clark-Bernhardt said data is key.
Clark-Bernhardt addressed racial disparities in arrests in her presentation to the City of Madison Subcommittee on Police and Community Relations. In order to accrue more accurate data, Clark-Bernhardt is partnering with the Harvard Law School Access to Justice Lab to study the Dane County Jail.
Clark-Bernhardt outlined a pre-charging option for 17-25 year-olds in her Community Restorative Report. This would allow suspects to be released on bail before charges, decreasing pressure on the prison service and causing fewer innocent people to spend long periods incarcerated.
Clark-Bernhardt also aims to increase the capabilities of the city’s data-driven analytics system to better understand average lengths of stay in jail, mental health illnesses and racial disparities. One problem is that various government offices do not work together.
“The Madison Police Department uses a city data collection system, while the district attorney and public defender uses the state’s,” Clark-Bernhardt said. “It is as though these offices are working in windowless huts without any communication.”
Breaking down these barriers could improve results, she said.
Clark-Bernhardt’s Criminal Justice Council meets every month to make the criminal justice system more active. Usually the inmates are charged with a crime, go to jail, are released and have no true participation in the process.
“Law enforcement and communities think that a Restorative Court could be a viable tool for rebuilding communities,” Clark-Bernhardt said. “Restoration can include community service and — in some cases — financial restitution.”
In order to achieve these goals, the city of Madison has paired with the Harvard Law School Access to Justice Lab to perform a multiyear study on Dane County’s inmate population. Results will be broken down by aspects of gender, age and race to determine how equitable jail sentencing is.
The Criminal Justice Council will also pair with the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Justice and Statistics, the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department to gather data and create a model to better understand who will be incarcerated in the next year.
Through this model, the Council hopes to increase its understanding of intersectionallity in incarceration, like mental heath and criminal justice.
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