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Hmong Students and Allies Stand up to UW-L

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Emily Markham, Multimedia Editor

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Last Wednesday, April 12, students awoke to find a banner draped across the clock tower with writing saying, “UW-L is Racist.” Chalk writings around the tower said similar things. The banner and chalk writings were the work of members from UW-L’s Hmong Organization Promoting Education (HOPE). In a press release done by the HOPE group, they stated these actions were done, “to protest the exclusion of student voice from UWL administration” as a result of an ongoing battle since last December.

On Monday, April 17, HOPE held a demonstration at the clock tower as an extension of those efforts. According to an article by The La Crosse Tribune, HOPE members and their supporters voiced their opinions about the Hmong language courses no longer being offered. The article stated, “The students brought [a] Change.org petition with more than 530 signatures, addressed to UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow.”

The petition says, “We, the Hmoob students of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, demand that our voices be heard and our expectations be met.” Other demands listed include the teaching of the Hmong language courses regardless of enrollment numbers, a formal apology to Hmong language course instructor Dr. Bee and the Hmong community, and inclusion of the Hmong students and community regarding the development of the Hmong studies curriculum.

The students marched to Chancellor Gow’s office to give him the petition only to find he was out traveling. The Tribune said, “Reached by phone, [Gow] said he appreciated students exercising their free speech rights but that such issues regarding academic classes are best handled by faculty and administrators experienced in those areas.”

In December of 2016 it was announced that two Hmong language courses—MLG 204 and MLG 304—would not be offered Spring 2017. According to UW-L courses cannot be run without at least 15 students enrolling. In interview with Provost Betsy Morgan, Assistant Dean of the College of Liberal Studies, Marie Moeller, and the Dean of the College of Liberal Studies Julia Johnson, they stated, “…in the past we have been happy to support 204 and have let it run with fewer students than is traditionally needed. However, UWL cannot sustain that model for 2 courses a year (204 and 304) given the budget cuts we are under and the large number of student needs across departments.”

Continuing, they stressed that UW-L is not cancelling Hmong language classes. “We want to be able to offer at least one class and it would be great to have the student enrollment to offer more. MLG 204 is being offered this Fall 2017 and the Hmong Studies Certificate is being designed to include the language class as an elective option.” For more information about the Hmong Studies Certificate and other curriculum updates visit https://www.uwlax.edu/cls/curriculum-updates/.

UW-L administrative staff members are working to find a way to keep the curriculum available, but when 304 was offered Spring 2017 as a distance learning class—a class where ITV is used in real time so students can interact with their professor via video call—students were not happy.

In an earlier article by The Racquet, Ntxawm Xyooj, HOPE co-chair explained, “Hmong is a very unique language that is very unlike English. You need an instructor there, in person, to truly understand and learn it.”

According to Morgan, UW-L staff members going to try and collaborate with the Hmong students about what will happen in upcoming semesters with the language courses, but ultimately, Morgan stated, “One of the most deeply held tenets of UWL and higher education in general is that curriculum is the purview of faculty.  Students can play a role.  However, it is not a consumer model.  It is the state of Wisconsin that invests in faculty based on their expertise and training to make appropriate decisions about the content of courses to best lead to student learning outcomes.”

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Hmong Students and Allies Stand up to UW-L