Cover gets college in trouble

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Monday, January 21, 2008
— No one can say Blackhawk Technical College doesn’t try to make members of minorities feel welcome.

The college even employs a diversity specialist and offers an annual Diversity Week.

And BTC, situated between Janesville and Beloit, often has offered itself as a place where whites, blacks and other minorities can meet.

But even the best of intentions can’t prevent a misstep.

Such was the case with a recent advertisement BTC sent to local households.

The magazine-style publication was packed with useful information about BTC, displayed in attractive style.

BTC Board members gave the publication glowing reviews at a recent board meeting.

Board member Kevin Leavy was among those who liked the publication, but he said he was caught short by a phrase on the cover.

The cover featured two smiling adults and two children. Underneath the photo was this headline: “A Family Affair: BTC is the perfect fit for the White family.”

Perhaps most people understood immediately that the article was about a family whose name is White.

Apparently, others read it as an assertion that BTC is especially good for white people. Or at least, that it was insensitive.

Leavy—a black businessman who also sits on the Beloit City Council—seemed satisfied that no one intended any harm.

But most black people would see the wording as a problem, said Bob Baldwin, a Janesville black man who is a diversity specialist for the Janesville School District.

“That’s kind of a natural thing—when you’re white, you don’t think about these things,” Baldwin said. “And people need to start thinking about these things beyond their own comfort level—you know, what about the other folks?”

Baldwin hadn’t seen the publication when asked to comment on it. Ironically, he is a member of BTC’s affirmative action advisory committee.

“Never even thought of it,” before it was published, BTC President Eric Larson said at the board meeting.

But BTC received phone-call complaints afterward, Larson said.

Larson—who sits on a panel of local CEOs who are looking for ways to attract more minority job candidates—said the wording has been changed on BTC’s Web site.

It now says: “BTC is the perfect fit for the James and Casey White family.”

Len Walker, BTC’s director of institutional advancement, was in charge of the publication. He said he fielded most of the calls.

“Most of them wanted to make us aware of the fact that it could be taken to be a racist comment,” Walker said.

And most of them hadn’t read the article on Page 3, where the first paragraph talks about the White family of Beloit.

“To be honest with you, we’re such an inclusive organization here that we don’t much think about those things anymore,” Walker said.

“Being white means never having to think about it,” Baldwin said.

Today’s younger students are used to living in a diverse world, Walker said, and race and ethnicity are not issues for them.

Nevertheless, Walker called the incident “a good learning experience” for staff members involved in the publication, “and certainly we’ll be a lot more sensitive going forward.”

By the way, the publication did feature black faces, including a feature article about a retiree who has gone back to school to learn how to be an auto mechanic.

To see the revised headline and to read the rest of the Blackhawk Tech publication, go to http://blackhawk.edu/about/publications/pdf/magazine.pdf.

Last updated: 1:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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