Over forty UW-Madison students gathered at Slichter’s Housing Office yesterday afternoon to protest University Housing’s move to put house fellow Chuefang Yang on paid administrative leave last Tuesday.
Yang allegedly told students to limit the number of white people they invite to a learning community dedicated to students of color on campus, and according to UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone, those comments violated federal law.
“This was not appropriate. Our residents have the right to invite whatever visitors they wish regardless of their background or identity. We’ve taken the appropriate action to address this and to ensure that the MLC provides a supportive environment to students,” McGlone says.
“We also want to be clear that the MLC plays a vital role within University Housing and the broader campus community in centering underrepresented students, and raising awareness among majority students. We support this important work, and will meet with MLC residents to discuss ways to move forward.”
Yang says that even though they believe they miscommunicated the intent of their message to their students, the concern they raised is still valid.
“It came off as if I did not allow white people into the space, which is completely ridiculous because white students live on the floor,” Yang says.
“However, is it truly that people are so uncomfortable around me they don’t feel safe and that’s why they can’t be here, or is it just that they’re uncomfortable because we’re not centering whiteness and we’re challenging white privilege and we’re challenging white supremacy in this space? Which one is it? Because one thing I can fix [is that] if someone is truly uncomfortable because they don’t feel safe around me, I can repair that harm. But, if people are uncomfortable because whiteness isn’t at the center of the attention, because I’m challenging white privilege, because I’m uplifting people of color, and I’m meeting their needs first, that I can’t change because I won’t change when it comes to the advocacy work I do.”
Lisa Yaj helped organize yesterday’s protest. According to her, the protesters’ concerns extended beyond Chuefeng Yang’s leave. Yaj says that protesters were also advocating for improvements to the Multicultural Learning Community, which University Housing designates as a safe space for people of color on the UW-Madison campus.
“We were advocating for the MLC resource room to be renovated because all of Witte is already done with new furniture, but we have leftover furniture in that room. There’s holes everywhere, there’s wobbly tables, so we were really advocating for more resources in that way,” Yaj shares. “We also understood that [the MLC] didn’t have a program coordinator, and that is a lot for Chuefeng to have to play those roles as well, because this person was supposed to be the one creating programs [and] investing their time in students on top of a house fellow. So, he really has to do all that work, and he didn’t get paid for the amount of work he did.”
Following the protest, the students delivered a list of demands to the UW’s Director of Housing, Jeff Novak.
Among other things, they called for the University to implement an application process to learn why students want to live and participate in the MLC. That’s because they say some white students only apply to live in the MLC to be near their white peers in Witte Hall.
Other media outlets have reported that Yang is still on paid leave, but they were reinstated to their position about an hour before yesterday’s protest.
Still, they want the University to take concrete action on each of the protesters’ demands. Until then, Yang believes the University should not claim to support students of color.
Editor’s Note: Chuefeng Yang is comfortable using all pronouns, but for the sake of publication uses “they/them” pronouns.