Update On Wisconsin’s Budget Committee, Wisconsin’s ‘Poetry Out Loud’ Champion, Racism On College Campuses

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Student leaders have been criticizing UW-Madison as unresponsive to the concerns of minority students, and racially charged incidents on campuses across the country have recently made the news. We discuss to what extent racism is alive on college campuses and why. The champion of Wisconsin’s “Poetry Out Loud” competition for high school students also speaks with us about representing the state in Washington D.C. Plus, we talk to a state capitol reporter about the latest news out of the state legislature’s budget committee, which met Tuesday.

Featured in this Show

  • Update On The State Legislature's Budget Committee Actions

    On Tuesday the state legislature’s budget committee met and made some key decisions. One of those was adopting a plan to allow sexual predators to be placed closer to schools and daycare centers than currently allowed, a long as they live in their home counties. We get an update from a state capitol reporter.

  • Wisconsin Student Makes A Performance Splash With 'The Art Room' In State, National Poetry Competition

    Altoona High School Senior Janeesa Gould joins us to talk about her performance of ‘The Art Room’ at the Wisconsin and national Poetry Out Loud competition.

  • Altoona High School Senior Represents Wisconsin At National Poetry Competition

    Back in April, 53 students from all over the country assembled in Washington, D.C. to perform at the “Poetry Out Loud” competition. While the students were judged on their ability to memorize poetry, they were really able to shine by their interpretation of the poem itself. This year, Altoona High School Senior Janessa Gould represented Wisconsin in the nation’s capital.

    Gould made her way to the national competition after winning the Wisconsin “Poetry Out Loud” contest earlier this year. Her interest in poetry performance began when her sophomore-year English teacher required her class to memorize a poem and recite the piece. In the years since that first assignment, she has competed at the regional and state levels.

    Gould said performing a poem well requires her to develop a deep understanding of the work.

    “When I was a sophomore, I just kind of recited the poems, I read them,” she said. “But as the years went on, I learned, ‘Oh, I have to understand what this means before I can make somebody else understand what this means,’ and I had to remember that this is somebody else’s first time hearing the poem, so I really had to convey that meaning to the listener.”

    Gould said she typically recites the poem in her head, often more than 20 times, before the sentiment of the piece begins to take shape. That process, she said, really helps her to translate the poem to the audience. It’s also during this process that Gould begins to determine the cadence of the words.

    “The first time I read a poem, I try to get the idea in my head of what I’d like the poem to sound like,” she said. “And as I practice, I try not to change that idea because too many things shift in my head and I over analyze it, like, ‘Oh, what could I make better?’ But I found out that, usually, the first time I say something in my head is the best. So, I try to stick with that.”

    At the national competition, Gould chose three poems to perform. But she said her favorite poem to recite is “The Art Room” by Shara McCallum.

    “I was really able to connect with this poem and find a deeper meaning when I looked into the author’s background, and I was able to understand it a little bit more,” Gould said.

    Being one of 53 students competing for the national title at any event can be nerve-wracking. But Gould said being able to be with other students passionate about performing poetry was “one of the most amazing experiences” she ever had.

    “To be with those 52 other students and to share that common love and poetry and appreciation for the arts is definitely not something I get, exactly, where I go to school,” Gould said. “But to be with those other kids was just amazing. And yes, it’s a competition but there was no fierce competition against each other. We knew we were all there to support poetry and the arts and it was an awesome experience.”

  • Racism On College Campuses

    A letter to the UW-Madison campus community from the outgoing Chair of the Student Council made the rounds on social media earlier this month. In the letter, Carmen Gosey said she is leaving because, “This institution does not care about people of color.” On the American University campus earlier this month, a half-dozen pairs of bananas with their skins inscribed with toxic messages were found hanging from black nooses. At that time, the university had elected its first African American female student government president. We take a step back and look at racism on college campuses.

  • Campuses As Spaces For Conversations On Racism

    Carmen Goséy’s words were harsh but definitive: “This institution does not care about people of color.”

    The statement closed her letter as outgoing student council chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and sparked debate as it made the rounds on social media earlier this month.

    At UW-Madison, along with others across the country, student activists have rallied to start a conversation to change the culture on college campuses. They have argued that racism is an issue on campus, and one not discussed nearly enough.

    “I think it’s exhausting to bring it out in the open,” said DeShawn McKinney, a former UW-Madison student who graduated last weekend. “It’s not only the physical labor of making sure it gets out, but also the emotional and mental labor of having to relay up those experiences. At the same time, it helps to further solidify the community among the students who do go through those things.”

    Those experiences don’t always look like blatant racism. Sometimes they’re what are called microaggressions, explains Chad Dion Lassiter, professor of race at the University of Pennsylvania and president of Black Men at the Penn at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.

    “It could be comments like, ‘I don’t see you as black,’ or, ‘I’m colorblind,’” Lassiter said. “Or, ‘You’re not like the rest of them, DeShawn, you’re very articulate.’”

    It’s local bars banning baggy pants and do-rags and avoiding hip-hop music so as not to “attract the wrong crowd.”

    “That wrong crowd is me,” McKinney said. “It looks like me, it walks like me.”

    Last year, a group of UW-Madison students started a campaign to draw attention to microaggressions they experience on campus every day, to “keep the momentum and unity of student voices speaking out against injustices.”

    The Real UW — A Visual Campaign features students holding white boards of real racially charged, ableist or sexist comments that have been said to them. Anti-racism and anti-discrimination campaigns such as this one have been started at college campuses all across the United States.

    At American University in Washington, D.C., students protested after an individual hung bananas scrawled with hurtful messages from nooses all around campus.

    In September, University of North Dakota students were outraged when a photo surfaced of several female students wearing the so-called blackface with the caption “Black lives matter,” referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. In Mississippi, students held a sit-in after a student tweeted racially-charged comments in response to a shooting of an African-American man.

    Despite the overt racism on college campuses, McKinney said college campuses aren’t any more racist than the nation as a whole. They bring attention to a larger issue.

    “College campuses are these weird bubble spaces, very contained, but they’re microcosms of what’s happening on the larger scale, so I think it manifests itself,” he said. “The proportions of people of color that exist in these spaces are much lower than exist in society … the effects can be more damning, I would say.”

    Lassiter said campuses can provide a place to have that conversation about race.

    “To dismantle this thing called American racism, you need all of humanity to do it,” Lassiter said. “I’m always pushing a paradigm. I’m always trying to train the next cohort of students who are gonna speak truth to power on all sides of the color line.”

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • Amanda Magnus Producer
  • Dean Knetter Producer
  • J. Carlisle Larsen Producer
  • Patrick Marley Guest
  • Janessa Gould Guest
  • Chad Dion Lassiter Guest
  • DeShawn McKinney Guest