It’s hard to believe that the Go Big Read program is in its eighth year. We were honored to pay a visit to see an exhibit at Capitol Lakes that showcases the history of the program.
Curator of the exhibit, Ginny Moore Kruse, has been a valuable partner since the beginning! Each year she (along with others) champions high quality book discussions and creative events for residents in her community.
We are excited to hear that Capitol Lakes will (and has been) engaging with Matthew Desmond’s Evcited. Checkout a showcase event that is being held in coordination with the Wisconsin Alumni Association.
Last week Chancellor Blank wrote a blog post addressing some of the difficult events that have occurred this summer both around the world and in this very state, pointing out that many of the questions these events have raised are also questions Matthew Desmond explores in “Evicted.” Read her full post below or on the Chancellor’s website here.
Creating community after a difficult summer
Posted on August 18, 2016 by Chancellor Blank
Across the country and around the world, this summer has, sadly, been filled with news of tragedy and violence, starting with killings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. I suspect all of us have been horrified at one time or another as we’ve turned on the television.
This past weekend, there was significant unrest in Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city in our state, as well as home to many of our students. And those who have stayed in Madison over the summer know that we’ve had our own series of controversial incidents and protests.
All of these events are likely to be on people’s minds as they return to campus to prepare for the semester ahead. Appropriately, one of this year’s themes– and the subject of our Go Big Read book, Evicted, is “what is community?”
At this moment, it seems particularly important to ask: How is community forged? How do communities like Milwaukee or Madison come together in the wake of violence and tragedy? How does UW-Madison do a better job engaging with our local community and our state? And how do we grapple with the changes we need to implement here on campus?
Many of us on campus have been busy over the summer, following through on our commitments to make the university more welcoming for all. We are moving forward on multiple initiatives, including the launch of a new pilot program for incoming freshmen on community building, called Our Wisconsin.
Within the next few weeks, I and others will share information about these different efforts, including the ways in which we are taking up the suggestions that came in last spring through our community proposal process. We received more than 100 ideas for improving campus climate, inspiring new programs and giving us new ways to think about expanding and modifying current efforts.
Over the summer I’ve also been holding conversations with a variety of community leaders about our community and our campus. I have invited a number of these individuals to be part of a Community Advisory Cabinet to UW Leadership.
It must be a central part of our education efforts here at UW-Madison to ensure that our students, when they graduate, are comfortable working and living in more diverse communities. The jobs of the 21st century and the employers who hire our students demand these skills.
Following this difficult summer, I suspect that many of us — faculty, staff, and students — will find it helpful to talk about what we’ve been watching and experiencing as these events have unfolded. I know that I have felt deep concern and even despair. I want to share those reactions with colleagues and friends and talk about how we move forward and find hope.
I plan to invite all the units around campus to invite their members into this conversation, if they wish to participate. I’ll be sending out more information right before the semester about how we can do this across campus.
It is our responsibility as a university community to try and understand the world around us…and to work to create a community here that reflects our values.
It’s the story of eight Milwaukee families faced with losing their homes. It’s also a powerful analysis of a little-known epidemic affecting people across the country living in poverty.
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the best-selling book by alumnus Matthew Desmond, is the 2016-17 selection for Go Big Read, UW–Madison’s common-reading program.
“This book provides us an opportunity to talk about a little-understood facet of poverty and the profound implications it has for American families, particularly in communities of color,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “I’m proud that an alum has brought this issue to the forefront and I look forward to conversations in our community about this important subject.”
Desmond received his doctorate from UW–Madison in 2010. He is an associate professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the UW. In 2015, he received a MacArthur “genius” grant.
In his book, he writes that in the early 20th century, evictions in the U.S. were somewhat rare and popularly contested. Now they have become a frequent occurrence for low-income families, especially those headed by black women.
Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, sees roughly 16,000 adults and children evicted in an average year, Desmond’s research shows. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.
“Providing stable housing and lowering evictions is a human capital investment analogous to education or job training — one that has the potential to decrease poverty and homelessness and stabilize families, schools and neighborhoods,” Desmond says.
“‘Evicted’ is astonishing — a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty,” says previous Go Big Read author Rebecca Skloot. “Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, ‘Evicted’ is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country.”
Go Big Read has a history of choosing timely topics that are part of the national discussion. This past year’s Go Big Read book, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, highlights racial inequality and the need to reform America’s justice system. That success offers a bridge to a campus dialogue on Desmond’s central question: “Do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be American?”
Initially, “immigration and community” had been chosen as the theme for the 2016-17 academic year, but “Evicted,” with its new insights on strengthening communities and its relevance within and beyond Wisconsin, made it a timely selection, Blank says.
Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events. Desmond plans to visit campus and give a talk. Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students, and to students using the book in their classes. UW–Madison instructors interested in using the book can request a review copy.
The Go Big Read program is an initiative of the Office of the Chancellor.
On February 10th, 2016, the Morgridge Center for Public Service and Madison-area Urban Ministry are teaming up to put on an event entitled Returning Prisoner Simulation that is directly related to the themes discussed by Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy.
Participants in the event will have the opportunity to walk in recently released inmates’ shoes as they experience the same obstacles faced by released inmates upon their re-entry to society from jail and/or prison.
The Morgridge Center for Public Service’s Facebook page describes the event more fully, stating that:
“This workshop begins with an introduction to the principles of Restorative Justice and explains the basic needs of returning prisoners. Each participant receives a mock profile that describes the life of a former prisoner and they take on the role of that character during a brief role-play. They must complete fundamental life tasks, such as finding housing and a job, or simply cashing a check.
By incorporating the restorative practice of storytelling, the simulation opens a glimpse into the sense of overwhelming frustration that a newly-released prisoner may feel. Immediately after the role-play, a facilitated debriefing by the simulation director allows participants to share their immediate reactions.”
The event will take place from 6-8:30 pm on Wednesday, February 10th, in the Red Gym at the UW-Madison campus. Participation is limited (there are about 80 spots), so if you are interested in attending, you can register for the event by clicking here.
To view the Morgridge Center’s Facebook page for this event, click here.
Have you read any great books lately? Do you think something you’ve read would make a great Go Big Read selection? Let us know! For the 2016-2017 academic year, we are seeking books with a focus on immigrants and community.
In the press release about the upcoming theme, Chancellor Blank had this to say: “America is a nation of people with roots throughout the world. Immigration is a topic that will lend itself to sharing our own stories of where we come from, as well as sparking a wide range of discussions about how we build community.”
If you’ve recently read something that engages with the theme of inequality in America, we want to hear about it. The deadline to submit books for consideration is January 24, 2016, and we are accepting both fiction and non-fiction nominations. You can use this form to nominate titles, and read more about our selection criteria here, and also see if your favorite title is on our running suggestion list.
A recent article from Madison 365 discusses a class offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that studies food deserts in Madison and has students interact with programs in Madison that aim to combat this issue. A unique feature of this course is its face-to-face, hands on component, which has students volunteering at different organizations and interacting with other volunteers, some of whom are former inmates.
The course, which is called “Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison,” is “working to improve access to healthy food via sustainable, urban agriculture” and does so by having the fourteen students enrolled in the course collaborate with organizations around Madison. According to the article, this course started as a project that began in 2013 with a grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.
The project, in conjunction with the course, aims to “understand and combat racial discrimination and food insecurity by working with community leaders. It was designed to address inequities in South Madison’s current food system, while at the same time establishing employment opportunities for former inmates.”
Students volunteer at food kitchens, community dinners, and other organizations in South Madison as a way to interact with those experiencing food injustice as well as formerly incarcerated individuals. One student in the course says of the experience, “I found it extremely rewarding to be able to sit with men with whom I superficially had very little in common with and be able to talk openly about difficult issues regarding race and incarceration. Seeing their willingness to bring us into an intimate discussion about issues that affect them so personally was humbling.”
While food deserts and issues of accessing fresh food might not seem to be directly related to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, it is hard to ignore the fact that amidst all the food inequality in South Madison, African American adults in Dane County have been arrested at rates of more than eight times than the rate of arrests for whites (according to the article). The convergence of poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in South Madison is manifest in both the food desert status of South Madison as well as the rates of arresting African Americans in Dane County.
This post was written by UW-Madison Journalism student, Lisa Speckhard.
Since 2009, UW-Madison has hosted Go Big Read, its common book program. A book is chosen to be widely read and discussed throughout campus and the community. According to the program’s website, the goal is to “engage students, faculty, staff and the entire community in a vibrant, academically driven experience.”
This year, the Go Big Read selection committee was looking for a book about inequality in America. They noted this was a pressing local issue, as could be seen in the Madison reactions to grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York, as well as the local shooting of Tony Robinson.
Over 200 entries were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and members of the community. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank chose “Just Mercy.”
Blank stated, “Bryan Stevenson’s book raises tough and important questions about inequalities in the criminal justice system … Now is a particularly good time to hold these conversations, as UW-Madison students, staff and faculty grapple with the ways in which these larger national issues affect our own community.”
The New York Times review of the book called it “a call to action for all that remains to be done.”
Bryan Stevenson is a the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. In 2015, he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. You can learn more about his journey here:
UW-Madison and the greater Madison area offered many ways to interact with the book. UW distributed over 5,000 copies to new students, used the book in over 170 class sections, assigned it as reading for all first year law students, held a faculty and staff panel discussion on the issues raised in the book, and is hosting a human rights conference at the Pyle Center next week. Later in November, Central Library will provide a life-size model of a solitary confinement cell for visitors to experience.
Students even interacted with the book artistically. Business students made posters inspired by the book.
It wasn’t just students who were involved; the UW-Madison Police department also joined in.
Madison residents can listen to a chapter of the book everyday on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Madison Public Library facilitated discussion by distributing discussion kits.
And a community panel discussion, featuring the Middleton Police Chief and the CEO of Urban League, was held at Middleton Public Library.
At 7 p.m. Monday night, author Bryan Stevenson came to the UW-Madison campus to speak at Union South in Varsity Hall.
Students and people from the community formed a long line to hear him speak.
Before the talk, I asked audience members why they came.
Stevenson opened the talk with a vision for the future.
He then laid out four steps for arriving at that future.
During the event, some audience members used Twitter to state their agreement and enthusiasm.
After the event, I asked audience members what their biggest takeaway was:
The talk is available online for those with NetIDs.
Those interested in “Just Mercy” can continue listening to a chapter of the book a day on NPR, check out the Pyle Center’s upcoming human rights conference, or step into a model solitary confinement cell at Madison Public Library.
To read the original article by Lisa Speckhard click here.
The Morgridge Center for Public Service recently published an article about the opportunity that 18 UW-Madison freshman students had this fall to learn about racial justice through creating art. The students are enrolled in three courses that are focused on the same topic, which is “Citizenship, Democracy, and Difference.”
Their professor, Professor Kathy Cramer, took the students to Memorial Union’s Wheelhouse Studios earlier this month. The students were given small squares from a portrait and were asked to paint their squares on a larger square canvas without seeing the larger portrait.
Once the students completed their individual squares, these pieces were put together to form a large version of the portrait. Students were then shown the original portrait and saw the similarities between their collaborative work and the original.
The article from the Morgridge Center says that, “The students gather[ed] to reflect on the project through the lens of racial and social justice work. Students talk[ed] about the need for collaboration and the power of many over one. Other students explain[ed] how they felt their piece of the portrait seemed insignificant, alone. But now they realize how important it was to the final, collaborative picture. Just one missing piece would have left an incomplete portrait. Instructors explain[ed] how important these same principles are to racial and social justice.”
To read the original article and see the students’ finished portrait, click here.
A recent Wisconsin State Journal article, “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” by Samara Kalk Derby, profiled the life-size, walk-in model of a solitary confinement cell at the Madison Central Library. At the Library, patrons can walk around the cell and if they want, check out audio of what prisoners in solitary confinement hear, such as moaning, screaming, and other loud noises.
The model cell has been to multiple venues around Madison, including the state Capitol. It’s estimated that 4,000 people have explored the model cell. The cell was brought to the Library to help patrons make connections between this year’s Go Big Read book, Just Mercy, and Wisconsin.
According to information posted outside the cell, between December 2011 and December 2012, Wisconsin placed over 4,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, which was approximately twenty percent of the prison population at the time.
The state Department of Corrections is considering limiting solitary confinement to ninety days. Currently, prisoners can be in solitary for 180 days to an entire year. Although an improvement, ninety days in solitary confinement is still six times the international standard for torture.
The model cell will be on display at Madison Central Library until Thursday, November 12th.
To read “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” click here.
On October 12th, the Middleton Public Library held a community panel discussion of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. This event sparked much discussion about social injustices and issues of racism in Dane County. Five Middleton community leaders have organized a community-wide follow-up workshop in the wake of the book discussion to address racial inequalities in Dane County.
The event, entitled “Equity vs. Equality: An Examination of Racial Inequalities That Exist in Dane County,” will take place from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM in the courtroom at the Middleton Police Station, which is located at 7341 Donna Drive in Middleton. The event will be co-lead by Percy Brown, Director of Equity and Student Achievement at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, and Laura Love, Director of Secondary Education at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District.
Participants in the workshop will discuss current racial inequalities in Dane County, what actions are currently being taken to combat these inequalities within the community, and brainstorm other ways to tackle racial inequalities in the community.
One of the planners of the event, Middleton’s Chief of Police Charles Foulke, says, “The Equity vs. Equality training is a logical step in maintaining the momentum that community leaders have been building to address this very real problem [of racial inequality]. I am pleased to be part of the planning team for this training and feel the Middleton Police Department can be part of the solution.” The Middleton Police Department has been actively engaging with the themes in Just Mercy.
The event costs $10 to participate in, and scholarships are available for those in need.
To register for the event, pick up a form at the Middleton Public Library or the Middleton Outreach Ministry Office. You can also register online by clicking here.
You can email Jim Iliff at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you might have or to apply for a scholarship to attend the event.