City of
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District 8

Alder Juliana R. Bennett

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Alder Juliana R. Bennett

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Madison, WI 53703
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Alder Bennett’s Blog

The City of Madison does not want student representation, redistricting committee seeks to crack student aldermanic district

September 21, 2021 1:50 PM

The City of Madison does not want student representation; redistricting committee seeks to crack student aldermanic district  

 

Although the Madison redistricting committee claims "college students" are a community of interest, the redistricting map process and committee members are actively seeking to weaken the UW student voice. In my capacity as Alder, I have heard during redistricting committee meetings and in private conversations that some people in positions of power believe that UW students should no longer be considered a community of interest. These abhorrent sentiments are reflected in the proposed redistricting maps, which removes undergraduate residential halls and the Spring St and College Court areas from being represented by the District 8 Alder, the campus area district.  

The removal of representation of UW students is an affront to the 43,820 UW students & UW alums currently living in Madison, and to the rich Madison culture that thrives off of the contribution of UW-Madison students. 

All of the arguments in favor of cracking undergraduate students amongst other non-student aldermanic districts are appalling. I have listed some of the main points I've heard against student representation, along with a refute and reinforcement on why students must represent students. 

 

1. Students don't vote. 

Yes they do. 

Additionally, it doesn't matter if you vote every election or none of the elections, everyone deserves proper representation. Claiming that students don't vote and shouldn't be represented by a like-minded student is akin to claiming any population that doesn't vote shouldn't receive equal representation. One can make a similar claim that by 2020 presidential data several underrepresented populations, such as Black and Brown people don't vote, as compared to other populations. Does that mean that neighborhoods heavily populated by Black and Brown people should be split amongst aldermanic districts? The answer is no! Anyone claiming that because a certain population doesn't vote and therefore shouldn't be properly represented should review their allegiance to representative democracy. 

 

2. UW students are majority White and come from wealthy backgrounds. We should care just as much about UW students as underrepresented people of color in Madison. 

This claim conflates the two issues of wealth and racial inequality and the needs of students in a way that wrongfully punishes UW students and does not create any more or less racial equity. Indeed UW students are majority White and many come from upper, middle class families; however, the UW student population is actually more diverse than the entire population of Madison. The City of Madison sports a 10% difference in it's White population, where UW is 68% White and the city is 78% White. In a majority White city, the argument that the constituency is mostly White and therefore should be split can apply to any of the 20 districts on council. Furthermore, UW students are generally under dependency status, without looking at parental income, students are by no means wealthy. The students voice must be protected, because the UW student population shares the experience of debilitating pressures of student loan debt and sky-high rents, as well as predatory housing practices and discrimination against students. 

This claim is being made after Madison made history by electing the most diverse council ever before, with 12 out of the 20 current alders being people of color and District 8 being represented by a woman of color. In terms of population, Madison is actually exceeding at representing people of color. Madison's representation of people of color on council is certainly something I am proud about. Yet, the fact of the matter is that splitting up the UW student populations does not create more opportunity for people of color to be represented on Common Council. In fact, weakening the student voice would make it more difficult for women of color such as myself and former D8 Alder Avra Reddy to run for council. 

UW-Madison is the number one recruiter and retainer of people of color for the city. There are few reasons why a person of color come to this White town, where people of color are routinely disenfranchised, other than to receive an exceptional education from the #1 public university in the nation. One issue myself and my predecessors, namely Avra Reddy, prided ourselves on is creating a Madison where students of color come here and want to stay here. How can we achieve this mission if we stifle student representation on Common Council? 

 

3. MATC and Edgewood college don't have a seat dedicated to their campuses.

Madison is a college town densely populated by UW students, it is only logical that there's a seat dedicated to students. Again UW-Madison is home to 43,000 students. This is astronomical in comparison to MATC's 17,000 students and Edgewood's 2,600 students. For the past 60 years, Madison has acknowledged the unique and important impact the densely populated campus area has on the city--this is unmatched by other campuses in Madison and surrounding areas. 

It is vital to have a seat dedicated to UW students, because our needs are unique to those of other districts in the city. A college Freshman living in Dejope or Chadbourne residential hall vastly differs from surrounding neighborhoods shrouded by wealthy single family homeowners with young children. It is a disservice to students and surrounding neighborhoods to expect the District 5 alder, who has no relation to campus-related issues, to divide their time between the needs of these two incredibly different populations. 

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We can acknowledge that District 8 is a district that is overpopulated in relation to other districts and must reduce in size in order to have equally sized districts. While the population of District 8 must be reduced in size, there are numerous ways to draw the maps that retain all undergraduate residential halls and the Spring St, College Court areas within one district. From the comments made in the redistricting committee and private conversations to the maps themselves it is disgustingly apparent that the goal for District 8 is to split the undergraduate population and weaken the student voice. This action displays a lack of regard to the needs of the unique student population and the contributions we make to the city.

District 8 is a sandbox of innovation and a center for economic activity and growth in the City of Madison. Over the past 60 years, District 8 has produced more icons than any other district, including U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, youngest council president and employee rights activist Austin King, gay rights activist and former Capitol Neighborhood Association president Eli Judge, and Madison mayoral candidate Scott Resnick. Madison thrives off of UW students' contributions: we live, work, go to school, use public transportation, and spend money at businesses throughout the city. Lastly, UW-Madison recruits the best and brightest in Wisconsin and the nation. Many UW alums stay in Madison because of the experience they have at UW. 

Any claim that there shouldn't be an aldermanic district dedicated to the UW campus area is an ageist claim against representative democracy. In a city where approximately 1 in 5 people living in Madison are UW students, we deserve a seat at the table. Students must represent students. 

 

In order to ensure Representative Democracy, two redistricting objectives must be met: 

 

1. All undergraduate student residential halls must be within District 8.

The 21 UW residential halls house 8000 undergraduate students. The young people living in residential halls have unique needs that a non-student representative can neither fully understand nor advocate for. We have the shared experience of the cramped dorm rooms, the crappy shared bathrooms, the University campus lockdown, and the special bonding that occurs in residential halls. A non-student representative far removed from campus would neither understand this experience nor have any incentive to advocate on behalf of student related issues.

Including all residential halls in one district would create easier campaigning and better advocacy for undergraduate students. No offense to my fellow alders Regina Vidaver (D5) and Mike Verveer (D4), but can you imagine either of them knocking on doors around the residential halls, asking for your vote? I certainly cannot. D8 Alders play an instrumental role in campus relations and advocating for student-related issues. For example, Alder Prestigiacomo's joint letter to University administration streamlined HEERF II, Covid-19 federal aid money to be rolled out to students. This level of care would be lost if undergraduate on-campus housing is not included in District 8.  

 

2. Include the Spring St and College Court area in District 8. 

This demand may be more difficult to fulfill; however, it is not impossible and it is an important task to properly represent undergraduate students. The Spring St and College Court area, currently Ward 55, consist primarily of upperclassmen students, who to some dismay actually do vote. The University has been buying up and displacing some of the only affordable housing on campus all in this area for the Humanities building. This area is even more so a prime area for redevelopment, with the creation of the Regent St TID 48. Between the University expanding into this neighborhood and redevelopment that is bound to take place, the campus area alder must be present to represent student voices on this matter. 

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There are several ways to draw the maps to realize these demands. First, the N Lake-Langdon area of District 8 can be absorbed by District 2. This area primarily consists of a mix of undergraduates, graduates, and fraternities that would be better represented in District 2 where most fraternities currently reside. Second, the luxury apartment buildings off of State St and Gorham should remain within District 4 and District 4 can constrict to serve the needs of redevelopment and businesses in that area. Lastly, the current East-West boundary between District 5 and District 8 can shift from N Randall to N Orchard. All of these suggestions allow for the current District 8 boundaries to be respected, while reducing the amount of constituents in District 8. 

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The Madison redistricting process has sent a clear message that students do not deserve to be represented within the city. The routine dismissal of downtown alders pleas to keep students with students and actively drawing maps to silence the student voice displays an utter lack of regard to the unique needs of a significant population group in Madison. It sets up a future where students and young people throughout Madison will be dismissed and taken advantage of. It is discrimination and an unabashed attempt to suppress the student vote. We must push against this and fight for retaining the campus area district. 


The Madison redistricting committee will be issuing its final recommendation to Common Council Oct. 7. Before then Email redistricting@cityofmadison.com, Comment on the redistricting maps, and Sign this Letter to ensure we have a seat at the table. 




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