Waukesha SDS Stands Up to Campus Racism

By Chance Zombor |
October 27, 2010
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Students hold signs and protest against Rebecca Kleefish
Waukesha SDS joined the UW Waukesha LGBTQ Pride Alliance to protest against Rebecca Kleefish, Wisconsin’s Tea Party candidate for lieutenant governor, because of homophobic remarks she recently made on a radio talk show. (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Chance Zombor of Waukesha SDS speaks out against racism on campus.
Chance Zombor of Waukesha SDS speaks out against racism on campus.

Waukesha, WI – Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), along with other student groups, held a Speak Out Against Racism! demonstration in response to a recent rise of white supremacist graffiti on the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha campus. The graffiti included swastikas and the initials “KKK.” The graffiti had previously been addressed by the university administration only with a mass email warning of a possible “written reprimand, loss of a privilege, or community service” for the perpetrator.

With around 100 in attendance, Dr. Peggy Rozga spoke first, sharing her personal experience of having fought in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. She encouraged students of this generation to continue the struggle against racism. Missy Gaido of SDS spoke out saying, “I would argue that the symbolism of writing KKK on anti-racism fliers is more than just racist. It is a threat of violence. When I think of the KKK, I think of death! The public murder of innocent people.”

The students’ demands were read out loud. Students then marched to the dean’s office to present their demands in writing. With no warning, 28 students crowded into the dean’s office with around 20 others outside the door. Students occupied the office for a half an hour insisting that the administration take action against white supremacy on campus.

UW Waukesha’s Dean was forced to agree to students’ demands. But the dean’s promises will not stop students from continuing to organize against national oppression.

The students’ demands are as follows: 

1) We demand stiffer penalties for racist graffiti: 

  • Genocidal symbols like swastikas and the initials “KKK” are more than offensive; they are terroristic threats which call upon the history of white supremacy to evoke the image of death camps and lynchings. This graffiti is an attempt to isolate students who are already marginalized.
  • Students who promote white supremacy on campus should face automatic expulsion.

2) We demand that the Diversity Center be given higher priority on campus:

  • The Diversity Center is currently the only resource on campus for oppressed nationalities and other oppressed and marginalized groups. The work its staff does to promote intercultural understanding is highly beneficial to the University.
  • The Diversity Center should be given greater funding from the University.
  • The Diversity Center should have a prominent icon on the campus website. 

3) We demand an expansion of Ethnic Studies courses:

  • UW Waukesha currently offers “Sociology of Race & Ethnicity,” one anthropology course on Native Americans, and another on Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East. Waukesha also offers Women Studies. These are great courses, but they are not enough. They do not fully address the needs of UW Waukesha students and they are not fully representative of the demographics of our campus or community.
  • We demand a Chicano Studies course and an African American Studies course.

Waukesha SDS and many of the demonstrators against racism, an hour prior to the Speak Out Against Racism! demonstration, also joined the UW Waukesha LGBTQ Pride Alliance to protest against Rebecca Kleefish, Wisconsin’s Tea Party candidate for lieutenant governor, because of homophobic remarks she recently made on a radio talk show. Kleefish had been invited to speak on campus by the College Republicans. About 30 protesters held signs saying, “NOH8,” and “I am human!”

Jessica Bemi, an organizer with the Pride Alliance said, “She likened those of us in the queer community to animals and inanimate objects by suggesting that if gay marriage were legalized, people might start marrying dogs or tables. Our campus community put out a strong response.” She added, “We in the LGBTQ community and our allies are devoted to equal rights for all people.”