The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) stands at a liminal moment in its relationship to its students and the broader community it serves. The recent, brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of Minneapolis and Louisville Police, respectively, have yet again demonstrated that Black lives do not matter in the eyes of the law enforcement and mass incarceration regimes that relentlessly harass, murder, and cage members of racialized communities in American cities. Milwaukee is no stranger to this crisis. Dontre Hamilton, Joel Acevedo, Tony McDade, Daniel Bell, Clifford McKissick, Sylville Smith, and Frank Jude are among some of the most prominent in the litany of victims of the city’s long history of police brutality. It is now up to UWM’s administration and campus community whether we will continue to play a part in these patterns of violence and oppression or find a new way.
We, the instructors of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Cultures and Communities, and members of the advisory boards of these programs at UWM join our colleagues from institutions of higher education throughout the country in demanding an end to our campuses’ relationships with the police. The Milwaukee Police Department’s continued commitment to racialized systems of abuse and brutality present a clear and present danger to our students and cultivates an environment of fear that undermines UWM’s pursuit of student success, research excellence, and community engagement.
Comparative Ethnic Studies introduces students to concepts of identity, power, and social justice that ultimately inform how they critically engage the communities in which they live. Comparative Ethnic Studies education helps students understand the social and historical conditions, materials, and realities that have brought us to the present moment. Therefore, it is our responsibility to recognize, for ourselves and for our students, that the murders of countless other Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks are the result of violence systematically made permissible at the deadly intersection of white supremacy and (in this moment: increasingly militarized) police rule.
The Cultures and Communities Program is charged with connecting UWM’s College of Letters and Science to the broader Milwaukee community. This mission obliges us to stand with aggrieved communities in our city – it mandates solidarity with the peaceful protests taking place against police violence.
Thus, we stand in solidarity with protesters worldwide and demand that those in our campus community and beyond join us in the work of identifying and uprooting the systems of oppression, including racism, that plague our police, our university, and other social institutions. We recognize that reform is simply attempting to shore up irrevocably broken and corrupt systems and therefore reserve our support for all those who work for abolition.
We call for Chancellor Mone and members of UWM’s administration to act without haste on the following:
By formal agreement, our campus police force is assisted by and assists the Milwaukee Police Department. To begin, we call for a democratic and transparent, campus-wide review of this relationship, with all options on the table, including its potential abolition. We acknowledge the problem of police profiling of UWM students of color by MPD as well as police in surrounding communities. Further, we look towards investment in community health and public schools in lieu of the continual funding of policing and incarceration.
African & African Diaspora Studies; Latin American, Caribbean & US Latinx Studies; Comparative Ethnic Studies; Hmong Studies and similar programs must be supported and grown as a vital part of the campus curriculum. These programs support students of color, who find themselves cast into racialized groups in our society, by offering courses where their voices matter that critically analyze systemic racism and emphasize their respective histories and the necessity of their full inclusion in the community on campus and beyond. For many students of color courses in these programs provide their first experiences of such inclusion while, for many White students, courses in these programs provide their first exposure to such critical analyses and inclusivity. These programs are thus vital not only for supporting students of color but for working towards an anti-racist campus and society.