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You know the drill. A racial incident on campus is followed by a statement from a campus leader denouncing what has happened, talking about how there may be a "teachable moment," maybe organizing an open forum. And relatively few people read the statement or remember it a few days later.
At the University of Wisconsin at Madison last week, Patrick Sims didn't follow the normal pattern. Sims, vice provost for diversity and climate at Madison, made a video that was unusually frank in describing what had happened and showing how frustrated he was. He visibly struggled for words about how to describe what he eventually termed "a cowardly act."
Sims didn't say an offensive note had been slipped under the door of a student's room. He read the note (warning -- strong language follows): "You fuck with Bucky. You fuck with us. Fuck you nigger bitch."
He said he wanted to describe the act as "punk ass," even if he acknowledged that vice provosts normally aren't expected to use such language.
And Sims said "no letter from the provost" will prevent such acts. Only students looking out for fellow students would make a difference, he said.
To whoever slipped the message under the student's door, Sims said he couldn't believe the person "has such a lack of respect for human dignity." And he didn't mince words in describing the atmosphere created by such actions. He said the university was experiencing with an incident like the note "the kind of hatred we haven't seen since Jim Crow."
"Enough is enough," he said. "This has got to stop."
With many on campus talking about the video (which is attracting considerable praise), Sims posted another one Friday in response to many asking him what they should do now. He said he was open to ideas but focused on the responsibility of students. He urged all students to talk to one another about racial issues on campus, and he particularly called upon "majority students" to do so. He said they needed to "take ownership" and not expect the victims of discrimination to do all the work.
Madison365, a local news outlet, reported that a first-year student, Launa Owens, has identified herself as the recipient of the note. She said she believed she became a target because she was photographed with a sign that depicted Bucky Badger, Wisconsin's mascot, in a Ku Klux Klan robe. She said this was part of an effort to draw attention to the racial climate on campus.