'BlackOut' student protesters demand end to 'oppressive' standardized testing

Protesters interrupted the University of Wisconsin system’s Board of Regents meeting for a third time last week, demanding the end of “blatantly oppressive” standardized testing.

The group of about 40 students, who call themselves “BlackOut,” stood up an hour into the meeting and began loudly chanting, “Ashé,” a Nigerian word referring to the creative power of an artist to make something happen, with others responding, “Power!”

Following the chants, Misha Johnson, a student at UW-Madison, began by telling the Board about her experience of racial discrimination against Native Americans. As she became emotional, the group supported her by chanting, “Ashé! Power,” and snapped their fingers.

After composing herself, Johnson continued by claiming that several students interrupted a healing circle by mocking the participants with, “fake war whoops and calls at us...as if that was my real culture... How do you expect marginalized students to feel welcome here when things like that happen?”

Meredith McGlone, UW-Madison’s Director of News and Media Relations, later called the incident, “‘deeply disturbing’ to both the participants of the healing circle and also the entire UW-Madison community”, and encouraged any students who know anything about the incident to report it.

The next student recited BlackOut’s list of demands, which include having the president admit the failure of the school’s diversity, creating new mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum and trainings, hiring more colored mental health professionals, and the creation of a diversity task force.

During the protest, BlackOut added a new demand calling for the removal of standardized testing.

“There has been so much research against it. It’s almost blatantly oppressive to ignore the fact that you are only hindering low-income and minority students from attending the university,” Kenneth Cole, a student at UW-Madison and co-leader of BlackOut, told The Daily Cardinal.

The group concluded by asking the Board, “What are you going to do about it? You can’t keep ignoring us.”

A Board member responded by saying, “I want to thank you for your information for us, we are truly…”

The students immediately interrupted her by again loudly chanting, “Ashé! Power,” and then stormed out of the meeting while several people applauded.

The Board called for a recess following the walk out.

Cole told The Daily Cardinal that they walked out because a thank you from the Board of Regents would have been insincere.

“At this point it’s a clear recognition that the Board of Regents just doesn't care,” Cole said, “If they can do so quietly they would like to continue acting as oppressors and to continue to act with disregard to any other student experience than the majority being impacted by what they do.”

BlackOut previously interrupted board meetings in February and December.

[RELATED: UW students crash Regents meeting to demand psychologists ‘of color’]

“It shouldn’t be our job to teach majority students how to deal with people from diverse backgrounds,” Cole explained in a recent Q&A with The Capital Times, “If we decide it’s not our job to teach white students – it’s their ignorance, it’s their problem – we’re not going to see any progress.”

Cole lamented about the few times he had experienced racism on campus, such as sitting around with two white friends who “used the ‘N’ word. It was a wake-up moment for me.”

He was also upset about an instance in a discussion-based class where the class was drinking water and “discussing the mental stimulation of what we’re doing. The professor says, ‘Taste the mineral composition. It’s not as bad as Flint!’ And some students started laughing.”

When Cole began claiming that the Board of Regents doesn’t care about the issues that BlackOut is addressing, the interviewer pointed out that Ray Cross, UW’s top executive, had already met with them.

“Yes. But a lot of what the university does, they do so they can showcase that they are talking about diversity rather than taking action,” Cole said. “The regents, in being so stubborn, are acting out a form of oppression.”

Campus Reform reached out to a spokesman for the Board of Regents but did not receive a response by press time.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @brianledtke