Update from the University of Wisconsin - Madison Physics

Wisconsin Physics Madison update University of Wisconsin UW

Has your institution acted on any of your demands? Are there any positive outcomes you have had?

Our department has enacted a weekly open-ended coffee hour that all faculty, staff, and grad students may attend and bring up topics of conversation. They’ve recently agreed to devote one coffee hour per month to a multi-media journal club focused on underrepresented voices and experiences in STEM. Faculty is very motivated to start a Bridges program. In the spring of 2020 we had a Climate Survey nearing the final stages before being administered, but it was halted by COVID. Students are pushing to have that effort pick back up again. Our Gender Minorities and Women in Physics (GMAWIP) group has been advocating for putting up posters in the building featuring non-white and non-male physicists and the department has been on board.

Has your institution flatly refused any of your demands? Are there any other negative outcomes you have had?

Our department has objected to faculty training (mentor, cultural awareness, implicit bias training, etc) because they claim those who need it wouldn’t want to take it. They’ve pushed back against having the department cover international student fees and segregated fees (~$1500 / year / student), setting up anonymous reporting within the department, organizing formal exit surveys for everyone who comes through the department. They were planning to move a large display of Nobel Prize winners away from the main area of the physics building, but that conversation ended due to Covid. Our department was also initially frustrated with negative comments students gave regarding their faculty-student mentoring program, but now that they are trying to prepare a Bridges program, they’ve been more receptive.

The negative impacts we’ve had are that interdepartmental relationships have been injured (but not broken entirely) due to student advocacy and the department grew tired of these conversations during coffee hour so they tried to reframe coffee hour in August to be less focused on advocacy. Though they’ve always been receptive to setting a theme for a coffee hour (about Climate/Diversity, covid, etc) and recently they’ve been inviting guest speakers to talk about things like mental health.

Are there other actions you are taking which are not specifically directed at your institute’s administration (eg. student-facing or community-facing work)? Would you like to share anything from these efforts?

GMAWIP has created a multimedia journal club called Group for Reading, Educating, And Talking about Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Advocacy in Science (GREAT IDEAS) which meets biweekly. This inspired the monthly multimedia reading group mentioned earlier. We have student-student mentoring programs run by the Physics Graduate Student Council (PGSC) and GMAWIP. And students (typically with the union, Teaching Assistants Association) have been attending rallies organized by the BIPOC Coalition, local advocacy groups like Freedom Inc, and others.

Are there any immediate priorities for the next 3 months?

The department is heavily focused on starting a Bridges Program and submitting a proposal by this spring.

Do you require any assistance or resources in particular from the other members of PAARC at this point? (Feel free to message us on the Slack channel anyway!)

We appreciate all that PAARC does already. Any advice from other institutions on mentoring (and in general) on what has worked and not worked for them would be amazing. We’d also love to hear from Black students on what they’d like to see that would make a physics department more welcoming.