“Milwaukee is one of those cities that has invisible boundaries,” Edwin Maldonado said.
Maldonado is in his seventh year as an academic adviser at the Roberto Hernández Center on the UW-Milwaukee campus. During his breaks, Maldonado often roams around the campus, where he notices similar segregation. But during his childhood he wasn’t as free to roam around where he pleased.
“Back in the 60s they used the Menomonee Valley as one of the boundaries between north and south,” Maldonado said.
He recalled that Greenfield Avenue, Virginia Avenue and the blocks between 4th and 11th Streets were the boundaries for the Latino community.
Fast-forward to 2011, and although they may have slightly changed, the boundaries are still prominent within the city of Milwaukee.
UW-Milwaukee’s director of Equity and Diversity Services, Francene Botts, experienced this for herself when she moved to Milwaukee.
“When I came I had a friend and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘You don’t wanna live any lower than 60th Street, and you might even not live any lower than 65th Street in any direction.’’ Botts said. “And this was another African-American that told me that.”
UWM student Tony Atkins is not surprised by the segregation of the city.
“Oh yeah, you got your black areas, you got your richie side, and you know you got the ‘hood,’ you’ve got all that.” Atkins said. “If you stay here long enough you get a pulse for what’s going on in the city.”
Maldonado, who has lived in Chicago and Puerto Rico, has a hard time choosing his words when comparing his current city to his former residences.
“Milwaukee is, how would I put this nicely, in a league of its own,” Maldonado said.
Atkins believes it would be hard for anyone who has lived in Milwaukee for a while to not see the city’s influence on campus life.
In 2010, the U.S. Census determined that Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the most segregated city in America. That segregation can stay with people in all aspects of their lives. Many argue that since people tend to stick to what they know, this segregation can carry over to life in the academic world.
So, what does this mean for the UW-Milwaukee students?
UNOFFICIAL SEATING CHART
It seems to mean that people of different ethnicities will usually stick with people who are similar to them. This is evident in the unofficial seating chart of the UW-Milwaukee Union.
“You see the groups dividing by ethnicity,” Maldonado said. “You have the Asian groups on the first floor by the piano, you have the African-American groups by the Flour Shop, and you’ll see as you’re walking by it’s like changing neighborhoods.”
Sophomore Cat Bowron echoed this observation.
“A lot of the Asians are down here in the terrace area and a lot of black people sit up by the Flour Shop on the first floor,” Bowron said.
Atkins laughed while agreeing with that observation.
“I don’t know what it is about that spot,” Atkins said. “But yeah right when you come up the stairs on the first floor, right across from the Flour Shop.”
Freshman Samantha Wong also sees a definite division but pointed out that it may not be an intentionally negative action.
“I definitely do see segregation on this campus,” Wong said. “I don’t know if it’s conscious segregation, but I do see it happen.”
UWM sophomore Erik Cibrian sees the same thing in the Union and added that even if it is unconscious behavior, he thinks it means integration has not been fully implemented at UW-Milwaukee.
“I think that we have not stepped away, at least on campus, from segregation,” Cibrian said.
Segregation seems to be an underlying topic on the tips of many people’s tongues but UW-Milwaukee has no shortage of available resources to focus more on integration.
THE CULTURAL CENTERS
The cultural centers on the UW-Milwaukee campus were created to help ethnic students transition from their respective cultures to the campus culture and to advise them with their academic decisions. Another important aspect of these centers has always been to maintain their respective cultures and share them with the entire student body and community.
Some people feel the cultural centers are helpful, but some remain doubtful that their efforts are helping to integrate students.
Cibrian referred to himself as “obviously Latino,” and felt that the cultural centers did not allow him to integrate.
“My first experience with an adviser here at UWM was in Holton Hall and it went well, I liked her,” Cibrian said. “But when I went to my second meeting with her, I was told I was no longer supposed to go to Holton for my advising and I was sent out to the Roberto Hernández Center. I felt like I was being segregated.”
Atkins is an African-American student who was slightly uncomfortable when revealing that he is ethnically matched with his academic adviser.
“I have Susan Fields and she is in the Black Student Center,” Atkins said. “But when I cut through Holton and see the advisers there, they’re white. I’m like ‘hmm.’”
Incoming freshmen intending to be a part of the College of Letters and Science are assigned an adviser from the list on the Student Academic Services website. But not all freshman advisers are actually listed there. Some incoming Letters and Science students with an ethnic background share the experience Cibrian and Atkins had.
Senior adviser Channy Rasavong of the Southeast Asian-American Student Services Center said there’s a reason for this.
“There is an ethnic code,” Rasavong said. “So the admissions office will assign students directly to their advisers but whatever decision students want to make we will respect them.”
The ethnic code from 2006 detailed which adviser ethnic students would be assigned to. At that time, African-American students with last names M-Z were sent to Susan Fields and Southeast Asian freshmen were all assigned to Rasavong.
The College of Letters and Science administrators could not be reached for a comment as to why this code was created.
Rasavong said that students have chosen to leave their assigned adviser to come to the Southeast Asian-American center and vise versa but that all the advisers are just happy to help when they can.
One way Rasavong works to enhance retention of the Southeast Asian population at the university is through the huge Midwest conference he helped structure.
“We have not seen a conference like this before in the Midwest,” Rasavong said. “It is geared specifically for Southeast Asian students, but we do not exclude any students who have an interest.”
While Rasavong’s efforts are focused largely on reaching prospective students and advising freshmen, other advisers focus on aiding the student’s entire family in the transition from their culture to the American college lifestyle.
Despite all their work, some say the message these centers are sending is neither loud, nor clear.
Botts said she thought the centers were for support and not about grades.
“You’re supposed to also have a academic adviser that’s in your major,” Botts said. “That’s supposed to be a support, not the main advising.”
So Welcome to the I.E.C.
The Inclusive Excellence Center (IEC) opened its doors last year to accommodate a bigger picture group.
“It’s a brand new center that started from the request of students,” Wong said.
“They wanted a center that focused on a broader range of students. There’s a lot of cultural centers on campus that focus on a very small group so hopefully this center will connect all the smaller centers.”
The IEC cannot mimic any other services provided by the cultural centers but they can focus on promoting a center for all ethnic backgrounds to mingle together in.
Wong said that one side effect of the cultural centers being so specific is that they have created an area where only the respective ethnic people and perhaps a few others feel comfortable going.
Cibrian doesn’t believe the centers are doing a good job of teaching students to integrate themselves with everything around them.
“I think students, like me, that try to integrate themselves in other organizations that wouldn’t be very familiar to them is very uncommon,” Cibrian said. “The environments here at UWM force you to segregate yourself away from all these other groups, cultures and heritage. All these groups of people: the Latinos stay with the Latinos, the African-Americans stay with the African-Americans and the Indian and Asians and so on.”
Wong stressed that the IEC is open to anyone to come hang out, do homework, participate in upcoming events or workshops and really get to know other people.
The director of UWM’s LGBT Resource Center Jennifer Murray said that she considers the LGBT+ communities as “aligning with the cultural centers” but as a “culture defined more broadly.”
“I see students creating common bonds of community and knowing you can be your full self or who you want to be without question and without concerns,” Murray said.
This self-selection of community shows that students are “not thinking narrowly about only one aspect of who they are,” said Murray but that there is a rise in collaboration amongst students with multiple identities.
One popular example of this collaboration is the annual UWM Drag Show. About several hundred people have attended the show every year for a night of fierceness and fashion. Windy Breeze is one of the UWM Drag Show performers but despite being surrounded by supporters during the show, she noted that there are other events with not so friendly faces.
In early April of 2013, UW-Fox Valley hosted a drag show that drew statewide attention due in part to the protestors. Breeze performed there but said she was not about to let the protestors and their posters stop her fun.
“You’re not stopping anybody from coming in the parking lot,” Breeze said. “Everyone who wants to see the show, they’re already in the building. All you’re really doing is helping people find where the building is.”
Breeze is also a performer at Pridefest, the nation’s largest pride festival. Cibrian is the assistant volunteer director of Pridefest and both have noted that the negativity outside the gates has actually been more helpful than hindering.
“If you’re ever lost, look where the protesters are, being really stupid, and that’s where you need to go,” Breeze said.
Cibrian has described his experience with Pridefest as “amazing” despite some internal community issues.
“The LBGT community in Milwaukee is almost a heritage of its own,” Cibrian said. “They’re on their own yet within itself there’s a lack of unison going on. You would think they would support one another more but there’s a lack of unity, a lack of structure and it almost falls apart.”
Breeze also commented on the Milwaukee LGBT community and said it was not as enthusiastic or supportive as her former residence in Austin, Texas.
“Drag is really big there, shows are always packed and overall the people are very friendly and willing to help each other but here that’s just not as common and I’m sure that goes back to Milwaukee as a city being so segregated and everything else just following suit,” Breeze said.
Cibrian said he believes this lack of unison is slowly changing for the better.
“On campus I see a little bit more diversity as far as the LGBT community including itself in different organizations and I see them opening up a little bit more,” Cibrian said.
Murray noted that this opening up process can be slow and that minority students at UWM thus have found themselves sticking together more than they may have intended, despite the numerous multicultural centers on campus, which are geared towards the integration of all ethnicities.
But where can a student get information on where they can go to integrate themselves?
You’ve Got Mail & Check the Walls in the Halls
Wong pointed out that many students, especially those new to UWM, aren’t aware of many of the events on campus.
“I think that the University should really be advertising what they have available, because, especially incoming freshmen, they don’t really know where to look, they don’t know what to do, but they need to make sure they’re being open-minded and searching out things for them to be a part of,” Wong said.
Maldonado said the Hernández Center does the best it can but that some emails get ignored.
“You know what’s sad about that is that we send that information to the main campus media to distribute to everybody, but they don’t,” Maldonado said. “And then people start saying, ‘You guys had your party, we never heard about it.’” We send that to the social cultural program for their newsletter but they never showed up to our events to take pictures or to promote it or anything. They never called us up.”
With the multitude of events occurring daily, some events will not get the media attention due to tight schedules or just not enough resources to send a reporter or generate more advertising.
Assistant director for student union marketing Brandon James said that in each weekly media release for all events around UWM campus that shows up in Pantherlink as from “All Students,” they only have seven slots and anywhere from 20-40 submissions.
“We have a student staff so we can’t go hunt down every single event,” James said. “We rely on submissions.”
Once submitted, the process of narrowing down what fills those seven slots begins with any pushes from the administration followed by student wishes for information.
“We’ve never turned people down,” James said. “But we need to be our own editorial board and look at what’s new and what’s coming up.”
James said submissions for an event must be in 10 days in advance due to the work it takes for the submission to be turned into its final form. Submissions turned in too late don’t make the cut but not for a lack of enthusiasm for promoting.
“It’s really difficult with such a limited vehicle,” James said. “We hope to provide more in the future. We want a web app to be part of the UWM mobile site.”
TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS
Until there’s an interactive mobile app, Atkins said individuals have the responsibility of creating their own plate of ethnic samples.
“It’s like a buffet of different things, when you walk through Bolton ‘oh you can get this culture,’” Atkins said. “It’s there. It’s definitely a buffet where you can pick out what you want to learn and what you want to get involved in.”
Whatever a student does choose to partake in, Cibrian said to make sure it is something that “makes you happy” and allows you to keep your GPA up.
“I think they should take interest in different groups because although it is important to do well academically, it is also important to involve yourself with groups,” Cibrian said.
Cibrian’s belief is backed up by Wong’s experiences.
“We’ve done a bunch of research and studies have shown that especially on a campus this size, you need to find somewhere or someway to be involved on campus,” Wong said. “I talked to a lot of incoming freshman that said they didn’t make connections and feel lonely and out of place. You need to find somewhere to fit and make connections.”