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Updated: 9 min 47 sec ago

Mifflin Street Block Party makes comeback

10 hours 16 min ago

University of Wisconsin students decisively proved the Mifflin Street Block Party is not dead this weekend.

Two years after the City of Madison stopped sponsoring the 46-year-old University of Wisconsin tradition, Mifflin saw an increased turnout.

Over the last two years, Madison Police Department has worked preemptively to try and discourage party-goers from attending Mifflin. They check alcohol pre-orders at local liquor stores, patrol houses on Mifflin Street and call on the city to enact a ban on glass bottles for the weekend.

There were no major incidents other than a man falling off a second floor balcony and another man off a stair case, according to an officer on scene.
Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

Logan Walovitch, a UW junior who lives in a house on the 500 block of Mifflin Street, said this weekend was something he and his roommates looked forward to all year.

“We got to keep the tradition alive,” he said.

Walovitch was a freshman the same year the city starting tightening Mifflin regulation and he said during that time, it seemed like the police were acting like the block party was dead. Personally, he did not go for very long in 2013, but did go last year. Though the turnout was not as big as this year’s, he said it was still fun.

“But this year was definitely a different Mifflin than any I’d been to,” Walovitch said. “It was the best Mifflin for sure. Everyone seemed to be having so much fun it was a beautiful day and definitely the definition of the perfect Mifflin. It was one of my biggest memories as a UW student.”

He said the police took a more laid-back approach and “let some stuff go.”

“They were still accepting of the fact it’s a good tradition and they weren’t going to arrest just anybody,” Walovitch said.

Police officers on duty during the Saturday Mifflin Street Block Party were friendly with attendees.
Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

Over the course of the day, approximately 40 citations were given out around Mifflin Street, according to an MPD incident report. These violations were primarily for open intoxicants and underage drinking, but also included citations for public urination and noise, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.

Verveer estimated the crowd turnout on Mifflin Street was in the thousands, with many people standing on porches and partying in backyards along the street, Verveer said.

“There’s no doubt that there were thousands of students partying on Mifflin Saturday,” Verveer said. “It was impressive given the fact that the prevailing thought was that Mifflin was on the decline.”

Mifflin Street Block Party began in 1969 as a protest against the Vietnam War, and continued until 2013 when the City of Madison released a statement that formally cancelled the party, Verveer said.

To develop an alternative to the Mifflin Street Block Party, UW began putting on Revelry Music and Arts Festival in 2013. It began as an end of the year concert, but developed into a completely student-organized music and arts festival, according to the Revelry website.

Mifflin will not be official city event in 2013In light of recent uncertainty surrounding the event, city officials emphasized the Mifflin Street Block Party is not “cancelled,” as …

Revelry served as a means to diffuse the crowds that have frequently populated Mifflin in years past, Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said.

Packed crowd during Chance The Rapper’s set at Revelry in Madison, Wisconsin Saturday evening.
Jason Chan/The Badger Herald

“[Revelry] has made it less Mifflin-centric,” Wood said. “If you have people who are going to hang out toward where the concerts are as opposed to everyone being more toward Mifflin, it diffuses the energy.”

This year, both Revelry and the Mifflin Street Block Party attracted crowds, including a large number of people who attended both events, Verveer said.

“I had a great time at both Mifflin and Revelry,” Verveer said. “Mostly because it was good to see students having such a good time at both of the events.”

Revelry sold approximately 6,500 tickets for patrons to attend headliners like the Chainsmokers, AlunaGeorge and Chance, the Rapper and the Social Experiment, according to an MPD incident report.

Chance the Rapper to Revelry crowds: ‘This is your show’Take a ‘Chance’ on Revelry by Jake Rickun Say what you will, but this year’s Revelry was superb. I saw …

This year was the first year the City of Madison was an official sponsor of Revelry, which recognized that Revelry can bring an alternative activity to a long-standing tradition, Verveer said.

“This year Revelry was the biggest and the best, there’s no doubt about that,” Verveer said. “The city’s financial contribution recognized that Revelry was a great event for the community, and one that I hope will have long-standing power.”

Spring awakening: Revelry grows in second yearAs the Mifflin Block Party as it once was becomes a fading memory of graduating seniors, the Revelry Music Festival grew …

Despite a large number of Revelry-goers, the festival reported no major incidents, according to the MPD incident report.

Though Mifflin experienced a resurgence this year, Revelry brought its own bonding experiences to UW students, Mirabelle Murray, UW freshman, said.

“I knew some people who went to Mifflin and had fun, but I had a great time at Revelry,” Murray said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but the energy was really there.”

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Categories: Local Media

Social stigmas fade as UW sees increase in male nursing students

10 hours 17 min ago

University of Wisconsin senior Ben Howell-Little is part of an increasing trend: He is a male nursing student.

Howell-Little chose to join the profession because he wanted to dedicate his time to patients.

“It would have been nice to know and hear from other male nurses that the stigmatization is over-hyped,” Howell-Little said. “Hearing from someone like me that they haven’t had any bad experiences would have made me more likely to pursue this profession.”

Despite a lingering social stigma for men in nursing, Ben Howell-Little, said he has had a generally positive experience and that nursing is increasingly seen as an option for men.

It seems awareness is increasing among men that nursing is no longer a profession restricted to females, he said.

The trend is reflected in UW School of Nursing’s demographics. The nursing school saw a 6 percent increase in male applicants this year.

For the upcoming fall term, 17 percent of applicants were men, which is an increase from 11 percent last year, Karen Mittelstadt, director of admissions and advising for the School of Nursing said.

“Some of the social stigmas with men in nursing have disappeared since the 1970s and the percentage of male nurses has gone up and so has the total number of applicants,” Mittelstadt said.

Aside from some initial concerns about the social stigma of men in the nursing profession, Howell-Little said he has only experienced two instances when a patient requested a female nurse.

The nursing school, however, does not set specific goals or percentages for enrollment of minority students in a given semester, Mittelstadt said.

Setting goals can be a good way to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups, Judi Hansen, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, said.

“If there aren’t benchmarks, if you don’t set the goals, then you don’t have something set you are working toward,” Hansen said.

Hansen said when schools and organizations set goals and assess the workforce, they are better positioned to make an impact on diversity of enrollment. She said UW-Oshkosh is researching this benchmark setting approach and has already developed a diversity assessment tool for the workforce.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing is a small non-profit that reviews nursing workforce data to analyze the direction in which the workforce is going, Hansen said. Unlike the higher percentages at UW-Madison, male nurses make up only 6.9 percent of nurses throughout Wisconsin, a percentage that has hovered in the same place for several years, Hansen said.

But when discussing diversity in the workforce, Hansen said one must also consider other underrepresented groups. She said around 95 percent of nurses are white, 1.8 percent African-American, 1.6 percent Hispanic, 1.4 percent Asian and 1.6 percent other.

“In other words, we don’t mirror the population we serve,” Hansen said.

Hansen said a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes for patients as they are not only provided with more diverse treatment regimens, but also report a higher customer satisfaction.

“There is no doubt having a more diverse workforce will improve patient outcomes, giving us a healthy population and a healthier society,” Hansen said.

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Categories: Local Media

UW professor researches life’s “big sloppy questions”

10 hours 23 min ago

Professor Dietram Scheufele has devoted much of his life to researching what he calls “the big sloppy questions of our time.”

What Scheufele describes as society’s unanswerable questions, such as global climate change, stem cell research, healthcare and the future of our military, all have an inherently scientific core. This has led him to devote much of his career to researching the way that scientific information is shared and viewed, Scheufele said.

Scheufele is a professor of Life Sciences Communication in the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Almost all recent technologies have shared three characteristics: they’re fast moving, super complex and many of the questions about the technology are not based on the science behind them, but rather on their ethical, legal and societal implications, he said.

“Everybody trusts the scientists and engineers to do the science right,” Scheufele said. “Do they trust [them] to think about the long-term consequences? Not so much.”

Scheufele began his career in communications and political science, focusing on how information was shared and why different people can interpret the same piece of information differently. Though this has been discussed in politics for centuries, similar questions have rarely been discussed in science, he said.

One of the most surprising things Scheufele has found in his recent research is the way people interpret technology based on the comments section of a newspaper article.

Keeping everything but the degree of civility in an article’s comments section constant, he found that in the uncivil condition people thought the story was more biased and were more polarized in their views of the technology, something he dubbed “the nasty effect.”

In a current study, Scheufele is looking to fix “the nasty effect,” and though the study is ongoing, initial findings suggest that inserting a fake moderated comment significantly weakens the effect and could be implemented in newspaper’s comments sections to encourage conversation without compromising their product.

Scheufele pointed to the anti-vaccination debacle as an example of a debate that might come up in his field of study. He said people who believe vaccines cause autism refuse to vaccinate their children. Although only a select group of people may elect against vaccinating themselves or their children, their actions increase the chances of everyone else getting sick and disease being passed around, he said. In this way, Scheufele said he believes scientific moral questions are “more important” and “more interesting” to study.

“In many ways scientific issues are much more important and much more interesting to study because it’s not just ideology,” Scheufele said. “It has impacts on how our markets behave and how our politics behave.”

In 2010, Craig Venter “jump started life” by taking synthetic genome, putting it in to a bacterial cell and growing it, Scheufele said.

The goal is for five to 10 years from now, scientists will be able to write human genome from scratch, he said. Although it may seem far-fetched, writing a human genome and manipulating genetics will happen, the question is how society will react when it does, Scheufele said.

“The question is not ‘Will scientists be able to do this?’ because they will. The questions are ‘Should we do this?’ ‘What are the societal implications?’ ‘Can a rich couple grow their own kid?’ ‘Can I change how intelligent that kid is going to be?’ ‘What gender the kid will be?'” Scheufele said. “[Researching these questions is] the challenge and the exciting part from our research.”

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Categories: Local Media

Mayor’s stance on drifters brings attention to city’s shelter capacity issues

11 hours 24 min ago

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin thinks the city has a “drifters” problem. But after Soglin suggested ways to get rid of the State Street area dwellers, city officials are questioning whether there is enough shelter to accommodate the homeless.

The number of homeless people in downtown Madison is on the rise as warmer months approach. But, while Soglin wants people to stay in shelters instead of on the streets, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said this isn’t a long-term solution.

Each person has a certain number of days they can stay at any given shelter, but this guideline is frequently put aside in winter due to the extreme cold.

By March and April, many chronically homeless people surpass the number of days homeless shelters allot in order to stay below capacity, and are forced to spend their nights on the street, Verveer said.

A lack of affordable housing in Madison is one of the reasons that there are so many people on the streets, Verveer said.

In Soglin’s campaign for mayor earlier this year he called for an additional 5,000 units of low-income housing although the feasibility of the plan was called to question in mayoral debates.

In an initial first step toward achieving that goal, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority recently announced the city received $23.3 million in federal tax credits toward the development of more low income housing units.

These buildings, however, will not be built in the downtown area due to the high cost of land, Verveer said.

The incoming federal tax credits will allow the city to build 750 units, preferably near necessary amenities such as grocery stores, bus routes and jobs, Matthew Wachter, Dane County Housing Authority housing initiative specialist, said.

“We are taking a much more proactive approach towards this than we have in the past,” Wachter said.

Roughly one-third of these new units will be specifically for people who are currently homeless, according to a City of Madison statement. People with incomes from zero to $40,500 should be able to access to affordable housing according to Soglin’s definition.

An email Soglin sent to City Council last week was met with backlash from homeless advocates.

The email introduced a clear cut call from Soglin to reduce an increasing number of drifters in downtown Madison, and remove several new encampments around State Street.

His concerns were primarily centered around the health issues related to the influx of homeless people.

He mentioned individuals “clearly under the influence of narcotics occupying the benches near Urban Outfitters,” several hypodermic needles found laying in the grass near The Towers and discarded clothing, including “feces laden pants.”

“The combination of city and county policies that encourage drifters to come to Madison, and the concerted efforts of others to send them here has reached an intolerable level,” Soglin wrote.

In early February City Council members made moves toward adding Madison’s homeless to the list of protected classes in a proposal that has not yet been passed. If successful, this would combat discrimination that restricts homeless individuals from getting jobs or finding access to housing.

“As much as this city does to provide resources, it seems we are never doing enough,” Verveer said. “There are always so many people on the streets in downtown Madison, despite our best efforts.”

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Categories: Local Media

ASM elects next year’s leadership

Sun, 05/03/2015 - 4:47am

Newly elected representatives of University of Wisconsin’s student government gathered for their first meeting of the 22nd session and elected leadership positions.

Running unopposed, former Finance Committee Chair Madison Laning, a UW junior, will succeed Genevieve Carter as next year’s Associated Students of Madison chair. She will take on the role as ASM’s leading voice during a time of impending financial hardship for UW.

Kyla Kaplan, former Sustainability Committee chair, will join Laning as vice chair next year along with Secretary Alexander Schultz, who is continuing in his same position.

Laning, who spent this year as Finance Committee chair, previously spent time as an intern for ASM’s Legislative Affairs Committee before taking on a leadership role.

“I didn’t think I’d be chair of ASM when I first started, but through the great experience and the mentoring I’ve had in this organization, I really want to spread that knowledge to people across campus and support everyone in the way I was supported through this organization,” Laning said.

Laning said next year she will focus her efforts on the shared governance implementation plan and furthering discussion around the diversity framework. She also said she will continue to roll-out the ASM funded food pantry and work to address student homelessness.

But with Gov. Scott Walker’s budget to be finalized this summer, Laning said her work as chair will begin right away. She said she plans to connect with student representatives who will be in Madison over the summer and maintain her strong relationship with administration.

Yet, Laning said some situations will call for pushing the envelope with UW’s leaders, especially with issues surrounding the budget.

Newly elected Shared Governance Chair Jessica Franco-Morales, whose chief responsibility is to appoint students to fill UW’s shared governance committees, had similar concerns regarding administration. She said when filling different campus wide committees with students becomes difficult, UW administration will often use this as an excuse to overlook the voice of students.

Next year, she said she will move forward with the shared governance implementation plan, which will determine who will be able to form and chair a shared governance committee.

UW administration’s commitment to shared governance previously came into question last year when UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank changed the Shared Governance Committee of Labor Codes and Licensing Compliance to advisory status after it recommended UW cut ties with JanSport.

Franco-Morales said one of her biggest focuses will be to assure the language of shared governance is kept intact if the UW System shifts to a public authority model under Walker’s biennial budget proposal.

Elected Diversity Commitee Chair Mariam Coker said she wanted the position because students of color are not a part of campus culture.

“I want to make sure University of Wisconsin students are as progressive as they are known to be,” Coker said.

In addition, ASM elected Matt Walczack as Nominations Board chair, Carmen Gosey as Legislative Affairs chair, Angelito Tenorio as University Affairs chair, Gary Baker as Rules Committee chair and Siddharth Pandley as Press Office director.

ASM will continue elections at their Tuesday meeting at 6:30 in the Student Activities Center.

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Categories: Local Media

Another one bites the dust: JD’s closes

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 6:14pm

It seems every time you turn a corner, another closure sign has gone up.

With Forever Yogurt and Smokes on State closing their doors last month, the retail scene downtown has seen many changes.

These changes continued when earlier this week, JD’s on North Bassett Street put up its own closure signs.

Teymour Tomsyck/The Badger Herald

Posted on the the door to the now vacant restaurant, a sign reads, “JD’s closed and moved.”

JD’s employees declined to comment on the restaurant’s closure.

But hope is not lost for fans of Chicago, Maxwell Street and Polish cuisine. According to the sign on the door, JD’s will still operate its food cart located on University Avenue and Frances Street.

“Forever” Yogurt, Smokes on State close downtown locationsTwo stores on State Street closed this week, creating more vacancies in the downtown area. Smokes on State, the tobacco lounge …

So for those looking for their late night cheese fries and Polish fix the food cart will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Teymour Tomsyck contributed reporting to this story.

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Categories: Local Media

SLAC members protest UW’s contract with Jansport at rally

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 3:08am

About 50 University of Wisconsin students and members of the Madison community gathered on Library Mall Thursday to protest UW’s apparel contract with Jansport before being arrested for trespassing in Bascom Hall.

Bascom Hall closed at 6 p.m. and University of Wisconsin Police Department officers arrested the nine students for trespassing after the building closed, but released them on the scene.

Jansport is a subsidiary of VF Corporation, a garment retailer that has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is a binding agreement to build safer working environments for Bangladeshi workers. It was drafted after more than 1,100 workers died when a garment factory collapsed.

Explainer: What students should know about debate surrounding UW’s JanSport contractWith the Student Labor Action Coalition along with the Associated Students of Madison again voicing demands that University of Wisconsin …

The group heard speeches from labor activists on Library Mall before marching up Bascom Hill and entering Bascom Hall with chants of “When we fight, we win” and “No change, no peace.”

Nine students remained in Bascom Hall by Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s office to stage the sit in.

SLAC and Blank have discussed Jansport before, meeting in March 2014. SLAC staged a sit ­in last year to increase pressure on Blank after talks failed to produce the outcome they desired, Luke Gangler, Student Labor Action Committee member, said.

“We’ve tried to go through all the official channels, and Chancellor Blank does not want to hear us,” Gangler said. “We want to increase pressure from the outside.”

In a statement, Joel Rogers, a UW law professor, and Erik Olin Wright, a UW sociology professor, said they were proud of the students demonstrating.

Rogers and Wright said protesters had tried conventional methods in the past, persuading the Labor Codes and Licensing Compliance Committee, the Associated Students of Madison, along with other student organizations. They said the students had not acted out of line.

Blank said in a letter to SLAC that UW does not need to cut ties with JanSport because it does not have any direct connections with Bangladesh.

Blank has followed other large universities in cutting contracts with licensees who have not signed the Accord, according to her blog, Blank’s Slate. The university has already cut its contracts with other VF subsidiaries, but still maintains a contract with Jansport, according to the blog.

“Since JanSport does not produce, source or purchase in Bangladesh I do not believe the company should be asked to comply with a regulation that simply does not apply to it,” Blank said on her blog.

The protest was intended to increase pressure on Blank to cut Jansport, a company which SLAC believes supports unfair labour practices, Gangler said.

“Today made it clear that Chancellor Blank would rather have students arrested than hold an open dialogue, or hold VF responsible,” he said.

Jansport does not produce UW apparel in Bangladesh but subsidiary profits from Jansport could still go to VF Corporation.

SLAC does not see a distinction between the grouped corporations, Gangler said.

“Through the lens of human rights, Jansport and VF are the same thing,” Gangler said.

Jansport should not be punished in this case, Blank said on her blog, citing legalities in their contract agreement, as well as the fact that Jansport does not actually employ anyone in Bangladesh.

The factory UW purchases clothing from is located in Appleton, Wisconsin, which Blank said creates jobs for Wisconsin.

“UW works directly with licensees and does not hold subsidiaries responsible for their parent companies,” Blank said.

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Categories: Local Media

UW students hold memorial for Garissa University attack

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:57am

Four weeks after the Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab massacred Garissa University in Kenya, the University of Wisconsin held a memorial for the 147 students killed in the attack.

The short but impactful event drew more than 30 people gathered on Bascom Hill to join in prayer, song and a moment of silence.

Hayley Sperling/The Badger Herald

Representatives from UW’s African Studies Program spoke about the incident and stated the importance of standing together as students and as a community.

Gospel choir members led the group through an emotional rendition of Amazing Grace.

Hayley Sperling/The Badger Herald

Organizer and member of the African Studies Program, Selah Agaba offered a three minute moment of silence, about a second for each victim.

First year UW grad student Serah Kivuti, who is from Kenya, said she truly appreciated the support from her new community.

“It feels nice when people feel like they’re not alone, when there’s a problem and everybody comes together and shares their pain,” Kivuti said. “It’s so consoling, so comforting.”

She also said being on UW’s iconic Bascom Hill was a fitting and peaceful location for the memorial.

Hayley Sperling/The Badger Herald

“It’s a really nice place to meet, especially when we came to have some moments of silence,” she said. “It’s just a nice place to meditate, to think about exactly what happened and feel for the families.”

Even though Kenya is half-way across the globe, Kivuti said she received many messages of support and concern from her peers.

“I received so many messages asking if I knew anyone who was in the attack, if I have any relatives there and I felt people really were concerned about what we’re going through and I feel that was really great coming from America, it’s very far away from Kenya…I still feel like a community of loving people,” she said.

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Categories: Local Media

Madison protesters raise voices for homeless rights

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:54am

More than a dozen people gathered at Philosophers Grove to protest and speak out for homeless rights Thursday.

The protesters met in response to an email Mayor Paul Soglin sent last week to city alders regarding the state of downtown behavior.

“In the past two weeks there has been a serious increase in the number of drifters in downtown Madison,” Soglin wrote.

In the email Soglin outlined various incidents in which he said he believes “deteriorated” the situation downtown.

Though many of these incidents involved finding clothing, waste and even hypodermic needles on areas on State Street where homeless individual and “drifters” often frequent, he wrote multiple times that these are not homeless issues.

However, protesters disagree.

Many of the issues Soglin outlined in his email are issues homeless people face daily.

Bathroom business: city board approves proposal for public downtown restroomsA Board of Estimates meeting provided opportunity for homeless residents and advocates to share some of the problems facing their downtown …

Former Ald. Brenda Konkel helped organize the protest and said the city has had the ability to solve many of the problems Soglin outlined in his emails years ago.

Some of these solutions include building a day shelter and public bathrooms downtown.

“The mayor put out that letter and a lot of us were really frustrated because there is $200,000 in the budget to have a downtown restroom and [the city]…there still isn’t one and we still have the same problems,” Konkel said.

One of the biggest issues, however, is of responsibility.

Organizer and former Ald. Brenda Konkel speaks to protesters at CCB #protest #Madison #homelessness @BadgerHerald

— Hayley Sperling (@hksperl) April 30, 2015

Some of the lines between city and county responsibility are blurred and fingers are constantly pointed at the other to take action, Konkel said.

Homeless advocate and community organizer, Garrett Lee said homelessness is a problem that stretches beyond city and county responsibilities.

“Everyone looking around and pointing a finger [saying,] ‘its their problem, its their problem,’ its all of our problem,” Lee said. “It’s a community problem and we need to start acting in a solution focused way instead of taking punitive measures.”

During their protest, members made their way from State Street to the City County Building, chanting along the way.

Protesters chant "build the homes, not jails" on their way to the City County Building @BadgerHerald

— Hayley Sperling (@hksperl) April 30, 2015

Though they were not large in numbers, their voices carried through downtown and drew the attention of many onlookers when they walked in the street and stopped traffic for a moment.

Upon arrival at the City County Building, protesters unraveled a banner that read “housing is a human right,” reminiscent of the banner used by the Young Gifted and Black Coalition in recent protests which read, “black lives matter.”

Housing is a human right #madison #protest @BadgerHerald

— Hayley Sperling (@hksperl) April 30, 2015

The Mayor has recently held meetings with city organizations to address these issues and will continue to discuss the matters in the future.

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Categories: Local Media

Assembly Committee holds public hearing for FoodShare, drug testing bills

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:53am

The state Assembly’s Committee on Public Benefit Reform held a public hearing on a bill which would restrict FoodShare purchases Thursday in addition to two proposals which would require drug testing to receive unemployment insurance or participate in jobs programs.

The FoodShare bill, introduced by Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, says people would be unable to use their food stamps to purchase shellfish, including lobster, crab or shrimp.

Brooks said during a press conference before the public hearing that there will be a learning curve if this bill is passed. He said the proposal was not meant to reproach people making food stamp purchases.

“My intent is not to stigmatize, it’s not to shame people,” Brooks said.

Brooks said during the hearing the bill would require 67 percent of food purchased by FoodShare recipients be included in a federal nutrition program for women, infants and children. He said this particular program’s food list was chosen because it is already federally approved and would increase Wisconsin’s chance of gaining a waiver from the federal government to pass the bill.

Legislature to hear multiple welfare reform proposalsThe state Assembly’s Committee on Public Benefit Reform has a busy session. On Thursday, it’s holding a public hearing on three bills, …

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, brought in four different kinds of cheese and asked the authors of the bill to point out which kind of cheese could be purchased by FoodShare recipients under the WIC list’s requirements. According to the list, a block of sharp cheddar, a bag of shredded mild cheddar and a 32-ounce block of mild cheddar all would be purchasable with 67 percent of FoodShare funding. He said out of the four cheeses, only a 16-ounce block of mild cheddar was on the list.

”I am going to share the cheese, but I have made the decision that Republicans get 33 percent of the cheese and Democrats get 67 percent,” Goyke said.

Tamara Jackson, representing the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, said access to stores with WIC list items would be “disproportionately challenging” for developmentally challenged citizens on FoodShare.

The USDA sets the benefit levels for Foodshare recipients under what is called a “Thrifty Food Plan.” During the press conference, Brooks said the name of the plan did not match the food allowed for purchase.

“I think it would be hard to argue that any plan that uses the word thrifty would include lobster and crab legs,” Brooks said.

In addition to the Foodshare bill, legislators also addressed two bills regarding drug testing. One of the bills requires people to pass a drug test to receive unemployment insurance in the majority of cases. The other requires people to pass a drug test to participate in jobs programs.

Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, the author of both bills, said during the press conference the two bills will help people find “gainful employment” in the state.

Sarah Zimmermann/The Badger Herald

“These bills are designed to help individuals to be ready and able to find work and that is what is important here in the state of Wisconsin,” Rohrkaste said.

Rohrkaste said these bills were intended to provide more “structure” from Gov. Scott Walker’s similar proposal in the budget. If people fail the drug tests, they would join a treatment program. There is $500,000 put aside for the treatment programs in the bills, he said.

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Categories: Local Media

Man found guilty of sexual assault in 2011 sentenced to 16 years in prison

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:51am

A man was sentenced to 16 years in prison Tuesday for sexual assault and disorderly conduct he committed in downtown Madison and University of Wisconsin campus area in 2010.

Robert Rickaby, 27, was found guilty in August 2011 of two counts of 2nd degree sexual assault, one count of 4th degree sexual assault and one count of disorderly conduct, according to Dane County Circuit Court documents. These sexual assaults were committed within an 11-hour period.

Rickaby was sentenced to 10 years probation and to maintain compliance with the Sex Offender Registration Program, according to court documents. He could not have direct or indirect contact with the victims.

He was sentenced to probation because he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or Asperger syndrome, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

After Rickaby’s probation was revoked he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and eight years of extended supervision, court documents said. Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford cited concerns for public safety if Rickaby was not sentenced, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

His probation was revoked because he refused to fully participate in sex offender mental health treatment, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

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War crimes journalist tells troubling tales of mass crimes and perpetrators

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 5:30pm

The only journalist that has covered all post-Cold War international tribunals, Thierry Cruvellier has sought to shed light on the troubling reality of mass political crimes and their perpetrators.

Cruvellier has been a reporter for 25 years and has authored two books on the Rwandan genocide and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. He is currently working on a book on the extreme circumstances of the conflict in Sierra Leone. He is on campus this week to give several talks on Rwanda, Cambodia and Sierra Leone and sat down with The Badger Herald to speak about his experiences.

For Cruvellier’s generation, Rwanda was a defining story. The establishment of the Rwanda Tribunal was their Nuremberg, he said.

Covering the Rwanda Tribunal paved the way for Cruvellier’s specialization as a war crimes reporter.

Cruvellier kept going back and covering tribunals because he said they offer writers a unique lens through which they are able to address a whole history of a nation through the lives of individuals. Tribunals are rich territory for writers – offering a range of issues and characters, he said.

But, there is a certain heaviness that comes with the exposure to excessive human violence and cruelty, he said.

“Once you start covering war crimes…come to the realization that what’s most frightening about it is that these crimes are committed by human beings like you and me,” Cruvellier said. “They’re not psychopaths, they’re not monsters. They’re criminal life corresponds to a particular period of time in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, the questions they raise are questions about ourselves.”

This realization and the questions raised about humanity can be haunting.

The humanity of the perpetrator is troubling because it becomes part of the writer’s experience while covering these trials, he said.

In addition to the troubling testimonies, tribunals are lengthy and can go on for years, which journalists and writers must be prepared for, Cruvellier said.

“Boredom, disillusions, and the mediocrity that comes with it, only if you can bear this, you can get the worth of the story,” he said.

Cruvellier thinks the international justice system is currently in crisis because the political environment is less conducive to supporting accountability and because the tribunals have not worked well. Additionally, they are worsening in terms of their efficiency and what is produced.

“[People must understand] how little criminal courts can do and to have much more modest expectations from the spectacular and high profile institutions and realize that they can’t achieve many of the goals they claim they’ll be able to address,” he said. “Bringing peace, reconciliation, closure for the victims, all these claims…courts cannot do.”

But, at the same time, he said the idea behind the creation of that system has never been more present in the public domain.

Cruvellier said ending crimes against humanity was an ideal, but not a reality of mankind. But, he disagrees that people have become increasingly indifferent and said rather, people remain just as incapable of stopping the events.

There’s more talk in the contemporary world on atrocities that are being committed than ever before, but the powerlessness remains, he said.

“What saddens us is our complete incapacity to prevent and to protect and to react, because the politics of our societies don’t change,” he said. “And this tendency of human societies to go to war doesn’t change either.”

Cruvellier will speak at Elvehjem at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and will participate in a conversation Friday morning.

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Madison community gathers to support Nepal relief effort

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 11:46am

In the wake of a devastating earthquake in Nepal, the Madison area Nepali community gathered together for a candlelight vigil Wednesday to commemorate victims and raise relief funds.

The Nepali American Friendship Association along with the University of Wisconsin’s Nepal Student Association hosted the event, where Nepali and other community members joined together in prayer and reflection for victims.

One of those in attendance who spoke publicly at the vigil, Sweta Shrestha, a Nepali-American who works at UW’s Global Health Institute, said she was glad to see a diverse crowd show up to support and connect with her Nepali community.

“It really restores my faith in humanity,” Shrestha said.

She said the last few days have been difficult since much of her extended family and friends are still in Nepal. To cope, she said she formed a close relationship with social media to update herself on the latest news from the region. In addition to dependence on social media, she said she has a strong support system in Madison.

She said all of her family survived the earthquake with only minimal structural damage to their homes, but said some of her friends there were not so lucky.

“I have a couple friends who are tour guides who lost everything,” she said. “They lost their homes, they lost their land and because of their profession they lost their businesses, too, because tourism has come to a standstill.”

She said she came to the vigil because while she wants to believe everything will be okay for those in Nepal, she knows nothing is certain. She said joining with others at the event allows their community to do something real to aid people in the wake of a disaster.

Beside the vigil, another example of the Madison community supporting Nepal is the work of Himal Chuli restaurant on State Street.

Sergio Gonzalez, an employee at the restaurant, said they are promoting the non-profit American Hindu Association, which is raising money in Madison to send to Nepal. Gonzalez said the funds will go directly into the hands of people who need it.

He said the Nepali people who work in the restaurant are also sending supplies such as food and blankets to their family members who have been affected.

Parwat Regmi, a UW senior majoring in geoscience whose family still lives in Nepal, said he along with other members of the tight knit Madison Nepali community came to the vigil to pay tribute to those in Nepal coping with homelessness in light of the earthquake.

“All of my family is back home,” he said. “We actually had contact with them just a couple days after the earthquake itself, so that was relieving to hear from them.”

Regmi said with regard to relief efforts, he hopes to see funds first address food, clean water and proper sanitation.

NAFA recommends donating to the American Red Cross, Sarvodaya USA and Help Nepal Network for those who wish to contribute to relief efforts.

Before the crowd blew out their candles and went on their way, they reflected once more on the efforts ahead.

“As they’re feeling left out and abandoned, we want to be there for them,” Shrestha said.

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Ending violence, spreading awareness: Madison organizations work against sexual assault and domestic abuse

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 9:02am

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Service of Dane County has opened a new shelter, doubling the amount of beds available for domestic abuse survivors.

But DAIS still sometimes sees more demand it they can meet, with its 56 beds at times not being enough.

“We’ve doubled our capacity in our new facility,” Director of Development and Communication Emily Barnes said.  “But we still often do have a waitlist, but that has been reduced.”

In 2013, 38,803 Wisconsin men, women and children received services for matters related to domestic abuse, and of those, 7,376 of them stayed in domestic abuse shelters, according to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

DAIS, which was founded in 1977, started as a helpline service to help and ensure the safety of domestic violence survivors and their families — and it’s grown considerably since, Barnes said.

“The organization started as a helpline run entirely by volunteers, and it has evolved into an organization that provides eight crisis intervention prevention education programs,” Barnes said.

Of the eight programs DAIS now offers, Barnes said its emergency shelter and 24-hour helpline are the most utilized and widely recognized.

Courtesy of DAIS

Barnes noted the new shelter is also in a public, rather than confidential, location.

She said she hopes this will foster a stronger connection with the community and let people know DAIS is there to help.

“The relationship that we have with the community is really important,” Barnes said. “I think that [the public shelter location] really set up a different community dynamic in the fact that we’re here, they know that we’re available to those in need and that hopefully they want to find a way to get involved.”

Along with the shelter, DAIS’ 24-hour helpline is one of its most utilized services, Barnes said.

The helpline, like in its 1977 days, is run by almost entirely volunteers and receives thousands of phone calls a year. In 2014, Barnes said, they received 11,500 calls.

“We really would not be able to operate our helpline if not for volunteers,” Barnes said.

A community effort

Creating a safe space for both men and women to talk about sensitive issues is no easy task, but DAIS doesn’t do it alone.

Aside from its volunteers and 60 paid full-time and part-time staff members, Barnes said DAIS works closely with the Madison community in many aspects of its operations.

DAIS gets 22 percent of its funding from the city of Madison, the state of Wisconsin and United Way, but more than one third of its revenue comes from fundraising.

Recently, Inner Fire Yoga held a fundraising event for DAIS, where they offered free yoga all day at both their West and Campus locations and accepted donations for DAIS.

Marit Sathrum, the owner of Inner Fire Yoga, hundreds of people stopped by throughout the day to practice yoga and support their community.

Inner Fire Yoga patrons relax with chair massages offered at their DAIS fundraiser.
Hayley Sperling/The Badger Herald

Inner Fire Yoga is no stranger to fundraising, having raised more than $83,000 for various causes in its 13 years of existence, with more than $27,000 donated exclusively to DAIS.

Sathrum said Inner Fire Yoga has held events to raise money for community causes since its opening in 2002. But she said they decided to donate exclusively to DAIS about five years ago.

“We chose DAIS because yoga is mostly women,” Sathrum said. “We [want to] reach our own community who doesn’t have the same means we have to come into a place like this and do yoga, so we partnered with them strategically.”

Sathrum said studio patrons have been receptive of the fundraising events Inner Fire Yoga has put on.

“I think people are always very heavy into supporting the community, especially yoga people,” Sathrum said.

Connecting to campus

While DAIS offers its services mostly to Dane County residents, University of Wisconsin offers various similar services and also works in partnership with DAIS.

Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, or PAVE, is a student-run and student-funded organization on campus designed to prevent sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking through education and activism, PAVE Chair Hannah Serwe said.

Serwe said PAVE offers many options for students to talk about these issues on campus.

PAVE has an office in East Campus Mall, holds workshops and is even partnering with UHS and the School of Social Work to offer a special class where students can learn more about sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking on campus, Serwe said.

Courtesy of Hannah Serwe

Serwe herself said she first got involved with violence prevention as a volunteer on DAIS’ 24-hour crisis helpline, a position that required extensive training.

Serwe said PAVE has worked with DAIS in the past and the organization has benefitted greatly from DAIS’ expert advice.

“Whenever we have questions, we can go to DAIS,” Serwe said. “They’re a great campus partner and community partner that we’re really lucky to have.”

One of PAVE’s main goals as an organization is to spread awareness around campus of a resource for students to use if they’re ever seeking information about sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, Serwe said.

Serwe said students and the community hold the ability to end dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“I think it’s important to know that violence is preventable, and we can change this culture, this rape culture that supports violence on campus,” Serwe said. “Everyone has a place in violence prevention, and everyone can take a role and take ownership of this problem.”

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Legislature to hear multiple welfare reform proposals

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:19am

The state Assembly’s Committee on Public Benefit Reform has a busy session.

On Thursday, it’s holding a public hearing on three bills, one of which would limit what kinds of foods Foodshare recipients can buy, prohibiting the purchase of any shellfish, such as crab, lobster or shrimp.

Later in the session, it might also take up other bills making changes to the state’s Foodshare program. One, for example, would limit the number of replacement cards that could be issued to Foodshare recipients during a 12-month period. Another would require photo identification on Foodshare cards.

The bill requests the USDA authorize and specify the number of replacement cards per year that may be given to Foodshare recipients whose cards have been reported lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed.

All of these bills require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services work with the federal government, as the Foodshare program is funded in part with federal funds.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, who chairs the Assembly committee, said changes to welfare programs generally require federal waivers or must adhere to federal guidelines and case law.

David Lee, director of Feeding Wisconsin, said this type of federal compliance would be hard to obtain.

But Born said he did not expect obtaining waivers to be a challenge, because other states have successfully received them for similar programs. There are specific guidelines and policies that lawmakers are currently working through, Born said.

“States like Maine and Massachusetts have been leading some of the reform, so we’ve been looking to model some bills after them,” Born said. “This is something that states deal with in different ways, and some states seem to have more success than others.”

If the bill requiring photo ID on Foodshare cards passes, it would require the state’s DHS to create a comprehensive plan for implementing the photo ID requirement in Wisconsin.

Born said the purpose of the bill is to make it more difficult for people to use Foodshare cards that are not theirs. The bill aims to protect the public funds associated with the Foodshare program, Born said.

“The overall impact of these changes to the public benefit system is to bring more accountability to the system and crack down on ways to abuse the system,” Born said. “When we’re talking to our constituents, it’s something they’re very concerned about.”

In January, Gov. Scott Walker proposed requiring drug testing for public benefits, such Foodshare or unemployment.

But Lee, the Feeding Wisconsin director, said implementing barriers for people receiving public benefits often costs states more money than they save.

“The push to implement these kinds of barriers is to protect public funds,” Lee said. “All public dollars are precious, and we need to ensure that the state has enough resources for its priorities.”

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City releases first draft of business plan for public market

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:19am

After 10 years of discussion, the city finally has its first draft of a business plan for the Madison Public Market.

Though the idea has been on the table for a decade, the vision for the public market was reformatted when Mayor Paul Soglin was elected to his seventh term in 2011. Soglin created the Local Food Committee to focus on gathering information for the public market, Dan Kennelly, project manager for the public market, said.

The past year and a half has been dedicated to developing the business plan released last week, which included reaching out to prospective vendors, meeting with potential customers and identifying a location.

“The business plan is really just the first step,” Kennelly said. “There will be hurdles. But at this point, the business plan is looking pretty good.”

Many other major cities in the U.S. have public markets, including Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago, Ald. Chris Schmidt, District 11, said.

Frequently, the city chooses to reuse an older, industrial area as the site for the public market, Schmidt said.

The current plan puts the market in what is currently the City’s Fleet Services garage on 1st Street, Kennelly said. The building is already owned by the city, which lowers the cost of the project by millions of dollars, Kennelly said.

“We found in our research that a lot of our prospective vendors and customers really want it to be on the east Isthmus,” Kennelly said. “Being able to tie in and connect to the river, it makes a really great public space that can tie in to nearby parks. It’s really ideal for conversion to a public market.”

Placing the public market on the east isthmus will hopefully increase access to healthy food for areas that have struggled with too little access to it, Schmidt said.

In terms of funding, the city is planning on budgeting money for the market, but Kennelly hopes that the state will also contribute. National grants and private sector funding are also potential resources, Kennelly said.

Agriculture is a central part of southern Wisconsin, and the Madison Public Market could serve as a central location to show off the rich local food culture, he said. There may be room for non-food vendors, but the development is currently food-based, Schmidt said.

Public markets play a unique role in allowing local people to start up small businesses, Kennelly said.

“Public markets have been a great way for diverse entrepreneurs to start a business, people who historically face barriers,” Kennelly said. “The city hopes that the public market can really be a positive force for economic opportunity in the city.”

The draft business plan presents a strong framework for the path forward, but community input over the next few months will help provide further input, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.

There are two upcoming meetings for the community to get involved in the development process for the public market.

May 26 at 6:30 p.m., there will be a community meeting at the Goodman Community Center on Waubesa Street. June 3, a vendor meeting will be held at the same time and place.

We're hiring! Check out our jobs page. Applications due April 27th.

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Let’s Eat Out! initiative serves up solution to city food scarcity

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:19am

Local food cart owners who literally make their “bread and butter” through serving others are reaching out to those who need it most with the Let’s Eat Out! initiative.

The coalition of 27 carts, known as Let’s Eat Out!, will bring not only food, but also education and even a multiday concert series to an assortment of neighborhoods over the course of the summer, Christine Ameigh, founder and executive director of Let’s Eat Out!, said. Ameigh also owns the Slide food cart.

Some of the neighborhoods, including parts of Meadowood, Allied Drive, Park Street and Rimrock Road, are experiencing a mix of low income and a scarcity of food suppliers, making the presence of the carts somewhat of a novelty, Ameigh said.

“Every night of the week we’ll be in one of those neighborhoods,” Ameigh said. “And it’s all about making sure we can provide meal subsidies.”

Let’s Eat Out! has received a grant from the city and has been conducting an online fundraising campaign to keep the food sold in the four low-income neighborhoods at an affordable price over the 64-dinner run of the summer program.

Ameigh said Let’s Eat Out! emerged from a city Parks Division program called Meet & Eat, which she described as “hit or miss.”

“They were successful on some nights, but not on others,” Ameigh said. “Food carts have a vested interest in making it successful because we can’t go out if it’s not worth our while.”

The food cart owners observed the Meet & Eat program before gradually taking control of it with the assistance of the city, Ameigh said.

While Let’s Eat Out! has been running since 2012, membership is at its all-time high and the organization is working to set a more ambitious, community-building agenda.

Let’s Eat Out! has potential benefits to the community that are still being developed, Ald. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, said. District 10 experiences some food scarcity, especially in the Allied Drive area, and could benefit from the Let’s Eat Out! summer program, he said.

“It’s really cool to see these companies that make their bread and butter on the downtown business crowd acknowledging that they have a unique capability to bring food to neighborhoods that have scarce access to it,” Cheeks said. “Even though it’s not a permanent solution, I think it’s great.”

For carts that are members of Let’s Eat Out!’s program, including Banzo, Fried & Fabulous, SOHO and other familiar student favorites, there are certain benefits that come at the cost of membership fees.

These include the marketing boost that comes with associational ties, access to special block party events, discounts for locally-sourced produce and the chance to be an exclusive vendor for both the MadCity Bazaar, an “urban pop-up flea market,” and for the upcoming concert series, Ameigh said.

The series is slated to take place at Madison’s Burr Jones Field across the three Sundays from June 21 through July 5.

The concerts will provide a way to build recognition for the program as well as another exclusive business opportunity for the carts that make up its membership, Ameigh said.

“I expect the neighbors will enjoy it, just as folks across the city enjoy it when the food carts make their way across the downtown,” Cheeks said.

We're hiring! Check out our jobs page. Applications due April 27th.

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MPD drafting subpoena for investigation into Uber driver complaints

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:18am

After two women filed separate complaints against Uber drivers over the weekend, Madison Police Department is preparing a subpoena to the company to get more details on the drivers for its ongoing investigation.

Two women inappropriately touched by Uber driversMadison police are investigating two reports of Uber drivers inappropriately touching Madison women this weekend. According to a Madison Police Department …

The first incident occurred at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning when a 23-year-old woman was picked up by an Uber driver near Langdon Street and Wisconsin Avenue. After several advances from the driver, the woman demanded that the driver allow her to exit the vehicle, and reported that she likely got out of the car near Gorham Street, according to a Madison Police Department incident report.

The second incident occurred Sunday morning around 2:30 a.m. A 26-year-old Madison woman was traveling from downtown Madison to the West side in an Uber vehicle when the driver attempted to kiss her and pursue “unwanted contact,” according to the MPD incident report.

The second woman chose to come forward after reading about the incident reported Saturday morning, MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said.

“After reading news accounts, she decided it was best to contact police, which I encourage anyone to do if they feel like they have been a victim of a crime or harassment,” DeSpain said. “No matter where that takes place, they should contact police.”

These two incidents are the first reports that DeSpain has seen, he said.

Uber has refused to provide additional information about the drivers who are being investigated without further action from police, DeSpain said. Tuesday afternoon, MPD was working to draft a subpoena to send to Uber that would request information regarding the drivers in question, he said.

The same detective is assigned to both cases, though they are being investigated as independent incidents because there were two separate drivers involved, DeSpain said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Mayor Paul Soglin continued to voice opposition to rideshare companies in Madison, especially in the wake of these two incidents.

The City Council began working about a year ago on an ordinance that would put restrictions in place for rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft, Ald. Chris Schmidt, District 11, said. Former Ald. Scott Resnick originally proposed the ordinance, but Soglin became involved fairly quickly, he said.

“Initially, the [rideshare] companies were willing to be at the table with us to work through the issues, but the mayor’s approach basically drove them away,” Schmidt said.

The city ordinance governing rideshares passed in late March. It put in place restrictions to treat rideshare companies in a similar manner as taxis, requiring them to provide 24-hour service, with no surge pricing, Schmidt said.

A bill currently waiting for Gov. Scott Walker’s signature would preempt this local ordinance and put more lax legislation in place.

In the wake of the sexual harassment incidents, Soglin is asking Walker to veto the bill, which passed with some Democratic support.

Soglin, local Democrats ask Walker to veto Uber bill after two sexual assault reportsFollowing two separate reports of sexual assaults involving Uber drivers last weekend, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin Wednesday urged Gov. Scott Walker …

Local officials do not have the ability in any other way to change the course of this bill, Schmidt said.

“We can’t add any regulations to these companies; that’s specifically forbidden,” Schmidt said. “Our best angle at this point is probably to be very aggressive when cases do come up, make sure we’re getting information, make sure we’re getting compliance from the company in the investigations.”

We're hiring! Check out our jobs page. Applications due April 27th.

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Course evaluations get a failing grade in terms of effectiveness

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:17am

It’s that part of the semester again: The professor awkwardly leaves the room while students rate how well the course went … or just fill in “neither agree or disagree” for every question.

University of Wisconsin students have filled out these course evaluations for more than 100 years, with each department determining the content it will include on them.

But amid attempts to bring course evaluations into the modern age, online evaluations now constitute about 20 percent of all evaluations at UW, and experts argue whether the current evaluations are effective at all.

Philip Stark, a statistics professor at University of California-Berkeley, argues for a more holistic approach to evaluate instructor effectiveness due to his view that course evaluations fall short of their intent and even incorporate student biases.

“Student course evaluations don’t measure what they claim to measure,” Stark said. “They are misleading, and there is now compelling evidence that they are biased against female instructors.”

In a study Stark coauthored with Richard Freishtat, the two authors claim course evaluations do not measure instructor effectiveness, but rather, student experiences are influenced by gender, ethnicity and attractiveness of instructor.

Regarding these biases, Molly Steenson, a UW journalism professor, said while she understands the importance of student course evaluations, she sees various issues with their current use.

She said various studies show course evaluations tend to be stronger for men than for women, stronger for whites versus people of color and are often brutal toward individuals who have an Asian accent.

While she constantly strives to better her teaching, she said it depends how seriously she can consider input when students can sometimes be unnecessarily harsh in their comments.

“I had one semester where I tried something new and a couple of students said really mean things in reviews and frankly, I felt shitty for three weeks,” Steenson said.

Steenson said a solution she used to improve her own course was having her Journalism 201 students fill out a questionnaire mid-semester so she could improve student experiences early on.

Stark and Freishtat argue student course evaluations can serve a more limited but still valuable role through providing instructors information about their students’ experiences.

To truly evaluate instructor effectiveness, Stark and Freishtat argue course evaluations must include the right questions, such as quality of instructor’s handwriting, audibility of instructor’s voice and enjoyment of interest in course material.

But this is only a portion of the holistic approach — they also argue for the inclusion of teaching portfolios and expert course evaluations in a review process.

Steven Cramer, UW vice provost for teaching and learning, said the solution to realizing the potential of course evaluations lies in increasing the use of online as opposed to paper evaluations.

He said online evaluations provide students with more time to complete the forms and allow departments to more easily customize and update their own evaluations.

Completion rates for online evaluations, however, are still much lower for online as opposed to paper course evaluations, James Wollack, director of UW’s testing and evaluation services, said.

As it stands, he said only around 55 percent of students complete online forms while upward of 90 percent complete paper-based forms.

Cramer said UW has looked into solutions for increasing these rates, and believes the answer lies in professors better articulating the benefits for all parties involved.

We're hiring! Check out our jobs page. Applications due April 27th.

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PACE lab explores the biology behind politics

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:17am

University of Wisconsin journalism professor Michael Wagner’s lab has a hunch that the way people think about politics might have more to do with actual feelings than most people realize.

The Physiology and Communications Effects lab is a place for researchers to test questions about how the environment and body interact when people are making political decisions and consuming different kinds of communication, Wagner said. It operates off the idea that people’s attitudes, much like eye color and personality, are in some way affected by biology.

“A few different folks from around the country, myself included, have decided to try to unpack the black box of unseen factors that might influence our attitudes,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s quest to delve into invisible factors affecting political attitudes started while he taught in Nebraska, where he showed subjects pictures of perhaps the most recognizable man in America: President Barack Obama.

Wagner said even when they controlled for what people said they thought about the photograph, their physical reaction was a significant predictor of not only how strongly they felt about Obama, but also how strongly they felt about health care reform, his signature policy proposal.

“What we think we’re showing is that above and beyond the important responses that people give in surveys, there’s something else happening to them when they’re thinking about politics,” Wagner said. “They’re thinking something and they can’t always articulate the feeling in a way that we can measure with a conventional survey.”

Wagner’s PACE lab uses a variety of tools to test levels of physiological reaction. First, the lab uses electrodermal activity, colloquially known as lie detector technology, which detects the amount of electricity conducted through the moisture in skin. This allows researchers to detect arousal, but not whether the emotion is positive or negative, Wagner said.

To test the direction of the emotions, Wagner said the lab uses a method called electromyography, or EMG. EMG uses sensors to detect movement in facial muscles. For example, when muscles associated with smiling or frowning are activated, the researcher can tell if reaction is positive or negative, Wagner said.

The lab also tests subjects’ heart rates, Wagner said. When people are engaged with a stimulus, for example, focused on a debate or speech, their heart rate tends to be slower than when they are distracted, he said.

Right now, the PACE lab is looking into how people physically respond to political debate, Wagner said. He said they are curious about the effects of debates on policy versus debates that are more contentious, where politicians make personal attacks or even vilify one another.

Wagner said the lab is also interested in whether the subject is in the party being attacked, or whether the party with which they identify is doing the attacking.

“How people respond when they are getting attacked, how people respond when they are on the attack, we think that would help us understand our polarized politics a little better,” Wagner said.

Wagner said his research does not mean things like religion, schooling and income do not affect people’s political attitudes, but that biology could be a less obvious but equally important factor.

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