Social Justice Endeavors with the Wisconsin Union Directorate
One common theme united the clubs and committees of the student-led programming board, the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) this year: social justice.
WUD is the student-led organization responsible for most of the ongoing programming here at the Wisconsin Union. Made up of 11 committees and six clubs, WUD hosts events ranging from their lectures by thought leaders to film showings to game nights. At the beginning of their term this year, each of the WUD directors and officers decided that WUD’s unifying directive would be social justice.
As Kari Fischer, the 2020-21 vice president of internal relations stated, “When the current team came in, we were trying to figure out what we wanted the theme to be and then the George Floyd incident happened, and we realized this was the conversation that needed to happen. It needed to be a continued conversation, and those voices needed to be amplified.”
Each committee wrote a statement highlighting their goals and plans for their year involving social justice and worked hard to meet those goals, though Pradyumna Rao, the vice president of external relations, was quick to point out that WUD social justice programming was not so much about reaching a certain point but rather a continuous process.
He said, “We wanted to discuss racial justice in every spectrum, in every inch we could, but we weren’t measuring success by any yardstick. It was not a one-and-done deal, so to speak, but it was more about fostering a culture and community that would take this work forward.”
David Lummis, the 2020-21 director of the WUD Society and Politics Committee (SoPo) mentioned that SoPo was uniquely geared for this particular theme, because the committee highlights salient issues both in the United States and abroad. This year, they held virtual programming and discussion spaces for students and committee members to discuss police brutality and criminal justice. They also encouraged students to vote in the 2020 election.
SoPo wasn’t the only committee to step up. 2020-21 WUD Distinguished Lecture Series (DLS) Committee Director Sydney Tang talked about how DLS has been focused on social justice for a long time, and, this year, they focused on intersectionality as it related to social justice. They hosted speakers, who talked about various topics ranging from COVID-19 health disparities amongst historically disadvantaged communities to police brutality to athletic inclusion, all of which highlighted social justice.
As a whole, WUD promoted social justice beyond simply programming. Numerous officers also worked closely with Wisconsin Union departments, including facilities, dining, and social education, to enhance inclusivity. They brought about change in dining by introducing different ethnic cuisines; they had a hand in pushing for compensation for associate directors of WUD; and they advocated for a more diverse staff.
“Our directors are taking the time outside of programming and making sure the Union holistically is meeting these [social justice] goals,” Fischer said.
When asked about the importance of this campaign, each director echoed the sentiment that this was a topic that needed to be addressed and needed to be addressed now. Though WUD has always highlighted social justice in the past, they wanted to make it an even bigger focus this year.
Regina Golding, the 2020-21 WUD Alternative Breaks Committee director, described the Wisconsin Union as the living room of campus and said, “The living room is a place of comfort in a home, and if everyone doesn’t feel safe in the living room of this campus, how can it be effective? We have a responsibility and a desire to make it a safe place for everyone.”
Barbara Rasmussen, the 2020-21 director of the WUD Film Committee reiterated the feeling, saying, “All of our committees have an important role to play in this. It’s easy to say this is just a topic for SoPo or Alternative Breaks to tackle, but this is something that touches everything.”
Lummis chimed in and said, “In short, this is important because it affects people’s lives. You need to be outspoken about these things, because our events have tangible impacts on campus, and when you speak up, you encourage others to do the same.”
Each of the directors also offered little pieces of wisdom to any other student leaders pursuing social justice efforts.
Golding said, “Make sure you’re listening to your team about what you can do to better your community.”
Evanka Annyapu, the 2020-21 WUD Publications Committee director, said, “It’s okay to pause and reflect and think about the systems that are in place. It’s hard to stop doing certain things a certain way and to say things have to change. Every single one of us has said something has to change. We’ve all been vocal in those ways. Don’t be afraid to take that step.”
And Rao simply said, “Be brave.”
If there’s one thing to take away, it is that. Be brave, be bold, and do not hold back from doing what is right. The WUD officers have embodied this philosophy and have truly left their mark this year on the campus community through their social justice work. We look forward to the continuation of this work from next year’s WUD student leaders. To learn more about WUD, visit union.wisc.edu/get-involved/wud/.