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UW-L Chancellor Gow announces new diversity initiatives

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Announcing diversity initiatives

Chancellor Joe Gow addresses faculty and staff during his opening remarks for the fall semester. Gow announced three new diversity and inclusion initiatives, including naming the Student Union and the Center for the Arts in honor of two outstanding UWL alumni of color.

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow has announced three new initiatives to boost diversity and inclusion on campus.

Gow, addressing staff and faculty Wednesday during his opening remarks for the fall semester, stressed the importance of creating a campus where all people are safe, successful and supported.

Inclusion efforts will become increasingly significant, he added, as students of color comprise a larger share of Wisconsin’s high school graduates in the coming years.

The first initiative involves the promotion of Corey Sjoquist to assistant vice chancellor for Admissions and Recruitment, and the incorporation of the Admissions Office into the Student Affairs Division.

In recent years, UW-L has established university records for the number of students of color on campus. However, Gow said much more work is needed.

“This new arrangement will enhance collaboration between Admissions, Student Affairs and Diversity & Inclusion,” he noted. “It ensures everyone is working in the same direction to not only recruit students of color, but also retain them and best serve their needs.”

Gow also announced that UW-L is devoting additional funds to support students from diverse backgrounds, especially those who may struggle financially.

Beginning this year, UW-L is allocating $400,000 annually toward scholarships for first-generation and historically underrepresented students. The funds will help students through four years of college, and will greatly increase the number of students of color who receive financial assistance.

“Traditionally, first-generation and underrepresented students are more likely to struggle financially,” Gow explained. “We need to acknowledge that and provide support where we can.”

Finally, Gow shared proposals for two campus buildings — the Student Union and the Center for the Arts — to honor two outstanding UWL alumni of color.

The Union would bear the name of Lillian Smith Davenport, a 1917 alum who was among the first — if not the first — students of color to graduate from UW-L.

She went on to have a successful career as a musician, performing on the vaudeville circuit and later teaching in Chicago’s public school system.

Davenport, the granddaughter of an enslaved woman, also advocated for Civil Rights. While visiting La Crosse in 1941, she noticed that many businesses had Jim Crow signs in their windows. She notified the Wisconsin NAACP, leading to the signs’ removal.

Davenport died in 1964, at age 69, and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery just north of campus.

Also, under Gow’s proposal, the Center for the Arts would be named after Truman Lowe, one of UWL’s most prominent Native American alumni.

Lowe, a 1969 graduate, was a world-renowned artist perhaps best known for turning natural materials into stunning, one-of-a-kind sculptures. Water, rivers and streams in particular, were a central theme of his art.

He later worked as a professor of art at UW-Madison, and as a curator of contemporary art for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

He died in 2019, at age 75.

Gow observed that these would be the first people of color with a campus building named in their honor — a distinction he called long overdue.

“We have buildings named for fantastic UW-L people, but there are many people who have been overlooked,” he said. “The power of these namings is greater than what money can buy. It teaches generations of students about our history and about what’s possible at this outstanding university.”

Before the building dedications can become official, they must be endorsed by UW-L’s shared governance groups and approved by the UW System Board of Regents.

Gow said he will gather input from a variety of campus stakeholders this fall. He hopes the proposal will inspire further conversations about how to celebrate people of color who have left their mark at UW-L and beyond.

Award recipients

During the opening remarks, several UW-L faculty and staff were recognized for awards earned over the past year:

  • Academic Staff Excellence Award: Thomas Harris, Multicultural Student Services
  • University Staff Excellence Award: Britney Heineman, University Marketing & Communications
  • Outstanding Woman of Color in Education: Monica Yang, Multicultural Student Services
  • Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People: Andrew Ives, Student Support Services
  • Eagle Excellence in Teaching Awards: Anthony Chergosky, Political Science & Public Administration; Merideth Garcia, English; Lisa Giddings, Economics; Brian Kumm-Schaley, Recreation Management & Therapeutic Recreation; Kathryn Moran, Theatre Arts; Amy Nicodemus, Archaeology & Anthropology
  • Eagle Excellence in Academic Advising Awards: Valerie Krage, Educational Studies; Emily Whitney, Health Education & Health Promotion.

A video version of the photo gallery that highlights some of the most accomplished people who have studied there.

“We have buildings named for fantastic UW-L people, but there are many people who have been overlooked. The power of these namings is greater than what money can buy."

Joe Gow, university chancellor

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