In 1909, students dressed in blackface and minstrel costume paraded through the streets of Madison on their way to UW’s campus. They stopped outside of university President Van Hise’s home so he could address them. He commended the students on their upcoming minstrel production, “I congratulate you on the success of this undertaking. It shows your versatility, and that is a quality all engineers should possess.” The minstrel show that year was, by all accounts, a raging success — performing to a sold out audience of students, faculty, and alumni. So successful, in fact, that for the next century, blackface, minstrelsy, and racist entertainment would become a central part of UW–Madison’s campus culture.
Since the late 1960s, Chicanx activists, academics, and students have been fighting for the legitimacy of Chicano Studies as a discipline with a rightful place as a department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Following a four-month protest and successful state lobbying effort in 1975, Chicanx students and activists amended the university’s budget to create the Chican@ Latin@ Studies program. Caught in limbo between activist ideologies and the restrictions of an academic institution, Chicanx activists and academics fractured over how to get departmental status. Despite these circumstances and the infighting that erupted between Chicanx activists and academics, both parties helped Chicano Studies survive the 1980s and enabled future generations to grow the program. Today the fight for a department continues.