In an effort to become a more equitable and inclusive community, several Waunakee community stakeholders, the village’s administration, village board members and others have engaged with the UniverCity  Alliance at UW-Madison to achieve a number of goals.
Gavin Luter managing director of UW’s UniverCity Alliance spoke during the Waunakee Rotary Club’s Feb. 11 meeting about how the alliance connects local governments with resources from the UW to provide research, report, implementation support and follow-up.
Waunakee applied to be one of the municipalities in the UniverCity Year program, and since September has been honing its projects with the work now beginning. During the first year of the three-year partnership, specific projects, along with expertise and staff to assist, are identified. In year two, UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students conduct research, independent projects, and internships. Local governments then receive ideas and recommendations before implementation begins in year three.
Waunakee’s local government was accepted as partner this year, along with Racine, Marathon County, Milwaukee and others. Others who have partnered with UniverCity have found a large return on investment, Gavin said.
“Green County is telling us that some of their schools are saving about $30,000 a year in energy costs because of some of the energy audits we’ve done. They’ve created new mental health programs for teens and adults alike,” he added.
The projects have been identified in Waunakee and UniverCity. The stakeholders, including Village Administrator Todd Schmidt, have had seven to eight meetings where Gavin “grilled him on what exactly” is wanted from the projects. From that, UniverCity is finding matches from the UW to help complete projects related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The stakeholders include village staff, the Create Waunakee and Waunakee is Home feature, the Waunakee school district, Town of Westport, village board, Ho Chunk Nation, Waunakee Utilities, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Waunakee Neighborhood Connection and the Waunakee Senior Center, along with citizens.
Gavin noted that Waunakee was shaken over the summer by the murder of George Floyd, along with incidents involving Waunakee schools, adding, “There were sometimes really hostile interactions between students.”
That led many of the stakeholders to say, “We need to do something to help our village figure out how we can be the most welcoming to people of all different backgrounds,” Gavin said.
He complemented Waunakee on its projects, noting UW-Madison, leaders are also struggling with these difficult issues.
One project will examine village ordinances to see if they are contributing to inequitable outcomes or making the community an unwelcoming place for some. Waunakee is Home is another, with a focus on how that broader equity and diversity media campaign can be shared at large gatherings. The school district is a partner with that project. The native nations cultural responsiveness project will help Waunakee acknowledge its past and create an awareness of the Ho Chunk community, for whom Waunakee was home before white settlers arrived.
Others will examine human resources, to ensure the village is hiring people from diverse backgrounds, communication on the village’s website and stigmas surrounding mental health.
Projects are expected to be completed within the next year and a half, and afterwards support will be provided as they are implemented and evaluated.
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