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In February 1998, the Office of the Dean of Students released a report, based on focus group discussions by students of color at UW-Madison. The transcript of those discussions allows the students to speak to us, with honesty and clarity, about some of the things that happen to them on this campus.


“It’s not like you got here because of quotas and stuff like that, because they won’t even talk to you, they won’t look at you and the thing about the college environment that’s really different for a lot of us is that they are very cold and reserved, they don’t try and make the effort for outreach.”


” . . . and nobody speaks to you, they will not speak to you, they will speak to each other and they will not speak to you, they will not sit next to you and if you ask for their notes they are like, ” . . . naw — I wasn’t in class.” It’s just very, very . . . 300 people and nobody speaks to you.”


“Even when you try to say like hi or whatever, that first day of class, right away you see people start to make connections and they might be studying together and if you don’t make that first move and you’re hoping this person is going to be responsive to you, but they aren’t. After that disappointing experience, you’re like, I’ll just sit here by myself taking my notes and then study alone and hope it goes well.”


” . . . these white students who come here . . . this is summer camp for them. This is home away from home. They have money and certain things taken care of, even if they have financial aid or whatever. Things are taken care of. They have their fraternities, sororities and bars cater to them. They have professors who look like them. This is their school, and we are visitors.”


“Mostly, I would say it is very alienating and feels incredibly lonely, and I have the phone bills to prove it. . . . I have to call my friends in Chicago and go: ‘Just talk to me, just talk to me. Talk to me about anything! What are you making for dinner?'”


“I personally find it very lonely, and I specifically take certain kinds of classes to try and combat that. We are in the black feminist class, and I sat down. She was there, and there are all these other different women, and it was totally like you know, you are in this class and not be the only one, and I specifically took that class because I was thinking this is going to be my survival class for this semester because I know that there will be other women of color in this class. Maybe there would be men of color, but there were none.”


“It was kind of scary when I first came to the University here. I felt very intimidated. I was the only person of color in my classroom. And the one that made the most impact on me was that one class in which I was the only person of color. It wasn’t a big class. It was like maybe 30 students. For some reason I did feel very, very intimidated. Maybe it was because back at home the white people are from the richest part of town, the smartest, they have the best schools and that sort of stuff. No way, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I thought they had made a mistake putting me in that class.”


“For me, many times, it is just me and the instructor who are the people of color in the class. It helps me not feel isolated. That just came to me right now. My experience in many of my classes is that I am one of very few students of color or the only one. If the instructor is a person of color, then I feel less isolated. I did not really realize that until now. My instructor who was Chinese taught math class, and there were very few people of color in that class. My other instructor was an African-American woman. There were maybe two other African-American, maybe two or three other students of color in a lecture of 100. It just made me feel like there were more people like me.”


“If it wasn’t for the IMCC (Interim Multicultural Center), I think the bus stop would be the hang out for me. ‘Cause I would be out of here like that. Because there’s really no other reason for me to stay on campus other than, you know, if I’m working on a paper I’m going to a library or something like that, or something else. You know if not for places like the CCE (Center for Cultural Enrichment), IMCC, that’s it.”

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