MADISON (WKOW) -- Former UW track and field teammates Hanna Barton and Banke Oginni were recently having a discussion about what they could do to encourage the athletic department to do more to combat racism.
"I was like, 'Maybe we can get them to do a book club?' recalls Barton. "She was like, 'Write a letter.' I was like, 'OK. I'll write a letter'."
They crafted a letter detailing steps they would like to see the athletic department take such as increased education on racial inequality, reviewing hiring processes and releasing a diversity and inclusion report each year. Before sending it to athletic director Barry Alvarez and the athletic board, they posted it on social media and were surprised by the response. They claim nearly 450 current and former student-athletes signed the letter.
"It surprised me because then it evolved into something way bigger than we intended it to be," says Oginni.
Alvarez responded Wednesday with a statement saying he was inspired by the letter and committed to leading change.
"Seeing Barry Alvarez say Black Lives Matter in all caps and saying it out loud…it warms my heart," says Oginni. "I think it falls short in many areas because in our letter we did address specific actions that we would like administration to take."
Alvarez mentioned how the athletic department added a Director of Diversity and Inclusion four years ago and hired former student-athlete Mike Jackson as an associate athletic director in January. Jackson now oversees diversity and inclusion efforts in the athletic department.
"I've been meeting with the students actively over the past three weeks, and we've gotten great feedback from them on what they want to see take place," says Jackson. "What's most interesting is we've already started to implement, or already had began implementing, some of the changes that were recommended by them."
Jackson insists the athletic department is committed to the type of positive change Barton and Oginni seek.
"We have to do a better job in making sure that all students feel like their experience here as Badgers is a strong one. That is a commitment and a priority."
Oginni says she and Barton will continue to play an active role.
"I think we continue to have these conversations and we have to continue to challenge administration and hold them to their word."
Barton and Oginni posted their letter as a petition on Change.org. You can read the entire letter here: https://www.change.org/p/wisconsin-athletics-foreverforward-b1bf0c97-9317-48ec-866b-31badd9327c6