Hmong American students began matriculating into colleges and universities across Wisconsin in the mid-1980s, with their numbers slowly increasing into the 1990s. Within the UW system, over 3,132 Hmong American students have attended UW–Madison from 2008–2018 (second to UW–Milwaukee, 6,494), with the majority of them coming from Wisconsin. Chong Moua set out to document their stories through oral history interviews and to “claim institutional space” for Hmong American students, past, present, and future. Shared for the first time here are their experiences at UW–Madison in their own words.
In the 1940s, Japanese American students — together with Asian international students and a few other Asian American students — formed the small Asian population on UW’s majority white campus. This could be lonely and isolating at times, but many also found ways to flourish and enjoy their years at UW, developing deep friendships with classmates and advisors. These are some of their stories.
When Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they did more than provoke the United States to enter WWII. They also triggered an era of uncertainty and hardship for Japanese in the U.S., including college-aged Japanese Americans across the country. A nation-wide, anti-Japanese atmosphere quickly took hold as Japanese Americans were forced into internment campus. Universities across the country, including The University of Wisconsin, responded to WWII by retooling to meet wartime needs for education. As one of the nation’s large Midwestern institutions, UW played a role in relocating Nisei college students from the West Coast and internment camps and disbursing them to other campuses across the country. Only a handful of Nisei students attended UW prior to WWII, preferring to attend West Coast institutions closer to their families, but by the end of WWII UW’s Japanese American population had greatly expanded. Japanese American UW stories reveal both the value and the limits of UW’s liberal racial values and policies at the time.
In 1962, the University of Wisconsin began its second “gay purge” to systematically seek out and expel homosexual male students. Undergraduate and graduate students suspected of engaging in same-sex relationships were brought before the university’s Committee on Student Conduct and Appeals, interrogated, and in many cases expelled. Those who escaped expulsion were reprimanded and coerced into seeking psychological “treatment” in order to remain students at the university. Some lost their scholarships and jobs. Known broadly as the “Gay Purge,” these efforts cleanse the university of “vice” had dire consequences on the lives of homosexual students. In its moralistic crusade, the University of Wisconsin destroyed students’ career prospects and caused them tremendous emotional and psychological anguish. The Gay Purge and the broader history of institutionalized homophobia on campus constitutes a shameful blemish on the history of the university which has yet to be officially acknowledged.
The first iteration of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Police Department (UWPD) was markedly different from what we now know as campus police. The UWPD was created during the 1930s with a primary responsibility to patrol campus looking for unlocked doors and vandalism. This role quickly expanded to include investigations, interrogations, and detailed incident reporting. By the 1940s, despite UWPD having only been operational for less than ten years, there were multiple serious complaints from students and Madison community members. By the 1950s, the department was fully reorganized in response to the complaints and public outcry that had continued to plague university officials. In the span of less than 15 years, how did the relationship between police and community sour? The increasingly uneasy relationship between UWPD and the UW–Madison campus community can be largely attributed to a sole perpetrator. In op-eds, student testimonies, and newspaper articles, one officer in particular was singled out as a malevolent force in the department — Officer Joseph Hammersley.
The 2020 college football season may be the oddest on record. Postponed and canceled games have defined the season as, each week, teams have shut down in accordance with COVID-19 isolation protocols, leaving some teams struggling to play even half a dozen games. Like many aspects of life in 2020, such a bizarre football season can easily feel unprecedented. But not so long ago, in an era of similar social tumult, fans saw their teams canceling football games not for safety but to spur social change.
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.
Since its launch in August of 2019, the UW–Madison Public History Project and its researchers have worked tirelessly to uncover and give voice to the histories of discrimination and resistance on campus. The project’s annual report showcases the work accomplished over the past calendar year including synopses of research completed by students, ways to engage with the project and its work, and a vision for the project’s final outcomes.
In the spring of 1988, a Black female UW–Madison athlete was violently attacked. While authorities denied it was a racially motivated attack, students, faculty and community leaders argued otherwise. But this was not the only attack on Black women to occur on campus or in the Madison community. Graduate student Angelica Euseary explores the history of racialized violence against Black women and asks the question — Are Black women safe at UW–Madison?