In August 2017, the white supremacist rally and fatal car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, jolted the nation and our campus. In the wake of that tragedy, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank commissioned a study group to research two student organizations from the 1920s with the Ku Klux Klan name. The resulting report recommended further efforts to not only confront the university’s history of exclusion, but also highlight the contributions of marginalized people who pushed back. The Public History Project was born in 2019, and its work has culminated in a fall 2022 exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art and the digital version here.
The main themes of this exhibition center on the histories of discrimination and exclusion alongside the resistance movements started to oppose them. But there’s also a more subtle theme to be found: community. The stories in this gallery highlight that some of the most important changes to this university have happened because people have come together, formed a community, and worked collectively to change this institution.
The histories in Sifting & Reckoning continue to shape life on our campus. Without understanding these histories, we cannot overcome them. It is up to us as a community to confront the legacies of the past, to remember the people who endured and resisted exclusion and prejudice here, and to commit ourselves to a different future—one that strives to make real, in the words of UW–Madison’s own mission statement, “the ideals of a pluralistic, multiracial, open, and democratic society.”
The history presented in Sifting & Reckoning is not complete. Not everyone’s voice has yet been heard, and many histories remain undocumented and unexplored. We invite you to become part of this process—to help us sift and reckon our way to a fuller and truer history of UW–Madison.
Using the Exhibit Website
There is no right or wrong way to explore Sifting & Reckoning, and we encourage educators to use the material that is best conducive to their courses, lectures, or discussions. However, we have provided an example lesson plan for those wanting more structure on how to incorporate the exhibit into a discussion. Educators can modify this lesson to suit the needs of their students and classroom.
Warm Up Question and Discussion (5-10mins):
What was your perception about the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Madison as a city before coming here? Students can either complete this by writing their response on a note card or quietly reflecting. Time dependent, encourage a few students to share their thoughts.
Website Exploration (15 to 20 minutes):
Allow students time to explore the various resources on the website. You can encourage students to look at least two topics from all of the category headings (i.e. Student Life, Housing, the Early Years, etc.), or you can divide students into groups and assign them specific topics or categories to explore.
Group or Whole Class Discussion (15 to 20 minutes):
Either in groups or as a whole class, pose the questions below. Alternatively, you can assign each student or group specific questions and have them answer/discuss them in groups then share their responses with the whole class.
- What specific exhibit, story, or experience stood out to you and why?
- What was the least surprising and most surprising? Why?
- What does this history reveal about who is a badger?
- How does this history change your perception about UW–Madison and Madison more broadly?
Wrap Up Question and Discussion (5 minutes):
Have students address the following question: Why is this history important for understanding UW–Madison and why should students know it? Students could either fill out a note card and turn it in before leaving, silently reflect on the question, or share aloud with the class when they are ready.