Late last month, the University of Wisconsin found itself in the middle of a PR nightmare when a fan showed up at a home football game against Nebraska wearing a President Obama mask and a noose tied around his neck. The school eventually decided to take away the fan's season tickets, but not before it came under fire for initially allowing the fan to remain in the stands at the game after removing the noose.
Fast forward about a week, and there are now more than 20 black Wisconsin student-athletes who feel as though that incident is a sign of the racial inequalities that exist on the school's campus. That group of athletes, which includes many Wisconsin football players and Nigel Hayes, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year for the Badgers' basketball team, has written a long letter to Chancellor Rebecca Blank requesting a meeting to discuss the inequalities they have seen. The athletes sent out the letter in the form of a tweet on Monday night and asked Blank to help them work towards meaningful actions to resolve their concerns about racism on the Wisconsin campus. Here is the letter the players sent out:
If you're unable to read the letter in the tweet above, here is what it says:
"Many people believe that student-athletes are immune from the racial injustices that affect other students of color on campus. However, our experiences are not shielded by the 'W' we wear on our chest, our experiences are one in the same. We are loved during competition, but then subjected to racial discrimination in our everyday lives too. It is painful that someone in our community would show up to an athletic event in a mask of our sitting president, who happens to look a lot like us, with a noose around his neck. That moment was like a punch in the face to not only student-athletes of color, but also current students, faculty and alumni of color. This incident was yet another blow and reminder that there are people in this community that may not value diverse populations. When we travel and play in other stadiums, fans have told us to get out of their country, or go back to Africa, but it hurts to receive that treatment at home. It does not end at overt racial issues, but it is also seen through microaggressions.
"Aside from the incidents of racial slurs being flung at us, there are assumptions that student-athletes of color wouldn't have been admitted to this university on our merits alone. In actuality, we have to work twice as hard on top of our demanding schedules to prove to professors and classmates that we do belong here. We also have to deal with not being chosen for groups in classes because it's assumed we are only here for sports and not to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for our future careers. We are fortunate to have many great professors here, but there are those that discourage us not to take their courses because they assume it's too challenging. Also, fans don't recognize the pain we feel when they voice their concerns about how raising academic standards will competitively disadvantage our teams, because they assume that students of color can't meet them.
"Socially, we shouldn't be called loiterers and threatened to have the police called when we are simply waiting with friends for an Uber. Nor should we have to hear in the dorms, the classroom, or on the street, people refer to us as niggers or monkeys. People shouldn't clutch their bags and cross the street as we approach them. We shouldn't be commodified for mere entertainment, but respected as individuals with ideas and the ability to contribute to society.
"These issues are in no way localized to UW, this is a national issue, and many universities across the nation need to start addressing how students of color are treated, and here at Wisconsin it starts at Bascom. Wisconsin can not only rely on statements, cultural competency emails and a few surveys to try and mediate the problem. We love the UW and are proud to be STUDENT-athletes here, and truthfully, our positive experiences outweigh the negatives, but no student should have to live through the negative climate. We ask that the university not continue to sweep the collective experiences of the students of color under a rug. So in solidarity with other students on this campus, we implore Chancellor Blank and her cabinet to take action, be visible, leave your ivory tower and speak to the students. Please create real programs, initiate meaningful change and understand that students of color deserve to thrive in this institution just like our peers. We want to be a part of the amazing legacy this university has held for years and years...On Wisconsin."
Also echoing the statement were junior cornerback Derrick Tindal:
As well as senior running back Corey Clement:
Wisconsin officials are yet to publicly comment on the letter.