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In a Homecoming Video Meant to Unite Campus, Almost Everyone Was White

The video was just two minutes long: a sunny montage of life at the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus in Madison. Here were hundreds of young men and women cheering at a football game, dancing in unison, riding bicycles in a sleek line, “throwing the W” for the camera, singing a cappella, leaping into a lake.

“Home is where we grow together,” a voice-over said. “It’s where the hills are. It’s eating our favorite foods. It’s where we can all harmonize as one. Home is Wisconsin cheese curds. It’s welcoming everyone into our home.”

Days before Homecoming Week, the student homecoming committee, tasked with producing the video, posted it online. The outrage was almost instantaneous. Virtually every student in the video was white.

This is the story of a video that galvanized and divided a university plagued by a history of racist incidents, as told by the people who saw it happen. Black students in particular say the homecoming video crystallized a daily fact of life: They feel they are not wanted at the University of Wisconsin, where there are significantly fewer African-Americans per capita than in the state, which is mostly white. This fall, more than 30,000 undergraduates began the school year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fewer than 1,000 of them are African-American.