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.