UW-Madison Housing investigates student employee's comments on race

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A student working for a multicultural community center at a UW-Madison residence hall is on paid leave following complaints over their alleged comments involving weighing race when inviting people.

The Multicultural Learning Center (MLC) lives within Witte Residence Hall.

Junior Chuefeng Yang has been a house fellow for two semesters at the Multicultural Learning Center (MLC) for Witte Residence Hall. Yang, who prefers they/them/theirs pronouns, said they have been on paid administrative leave since Tuesday.

According to Yang, university housing officials asked to meet with Yang on Tuesday morning. Yang said the officials stressed that the meeting was to gather information about several complaints that were made about Yang.

“Recently a number of MLC residents reported that in conversations and at a floor meeting, they were told to limit who they invite to visit them based on race,” Meredith McGlone, a university spokesperson, wrote in an email to NBC15. “An investigation confirmed that this happened and University Housing is working on the appropriate responses.”

The University website writes that the goals of the MLC include “(creating) a safer space for a diverse group of students to come together, create a community and support one another in their academic and personal growth” and “(developing) an understanding of social justice and the skills to become an engaged community member.”

"We encourage and support discussions of social justice that center the experiences of underrepresented students and may challenge residents' views,” McGlone added.

Yang said they are typically vocal about topics of race. They saw engaging in “uncomfortable” conversations as a part of the unofficial job description as a community leader.

“I say things like ‘Don’t bring too many white students around,’” they said. “It’s not to say white students are not allowed here. But it's just to say, 'Let’s make sure we’re protecting the intentionality of this space.'”

McGlone wrote, “We want to be clear that neither race nor any other form of background/identity shall be used as a basis to determine who residents may invite to visit them. Discrimination is counter to our values as an institution.”

For Yang, a personal struggle with university officials revealed an even bigger problem.

“For so long, students of color on this campus have been begging and complaining and emailing and rioting and protesting for their needs to be met and yet for some reason, when five to six white students complain, all of a sudden it results in a person of color being removed from a space,” they said.

Yang wished the university had brought students together to talk.

“Is it truly that they’re so uncomfortable around me they don't feel safe, or is it just that they’re uncomfortable because for the first time in their life, their whiteness and their white privilege is being challenged?”

Yang said they were told not to reach out to students while the investigation is ongoing.