Choose: Dorms

Witte, Chadbourne, Phillips, Liz Waters and more — there’s a dorm for (almost) every UW-Madison freshman. College news reporter Hannah Ritvo reported that 89% of all first-year students chose to live in one of the 21 residence halls UW offers. Their reason?

“Cost and social scene were probably the biggest factors for me,” said freshman Claudia Otero, a Dejope resident. “It was important to have an affordable place to live, while it was also important to have a large social scene close to me.”

Many Badgers continue to make this decision because of residence halls’ proximity to classes, inviting atmosphere and provided amenities. 

Welcoming the largest of undergraduate students this academic year, the UW-Madison has faced obstacles in accommodating students seeking on-campus housing, leaving questions about the future of UW Housing and its growth.

With the enrollment of 8,465 first-year students this fall, the university was forced to address overflow issues by converting dens and common spaces into dorm rooms as well as larger rooms into triples and quads. The Lowell Center — a campus conference center and hotel — was also transitioned into a temporary residence hall facility. 

This issue is bound to be exacerbated by upcoming demolition of two UW Housing facilities, Davis Residence Hall and the Zoe Bayliss Co-Op, after the 2022-23 academic year to make room for a new College of Letters & Science building, College editor Sophia Vento detailed.

Overcrowding and cost of living in on-campus housing has since been at the forefront of minds across the campus community.

University Housing Communications Director Brendon Dybdahl stated that freshman housing plans for two semesters — seven to eight months — can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $14,100, depending on which dining plan a student decides to purchase. The combined mid-tier dining plan is priced between $10,400 and $13,200, while the typical off-campus resident, nationally, spends about $10,781 for an entire year of room and board according to a report from the Education Data Initiative.

On-campus housing costs at UW-Madison are low compared to some other Big Ten schools, a fact that Dybdahl characterizes as typical. The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor housing website lists the basic on-campus plan as ranging from $11,130 to $16,600, depending on room type, College news reporter Kodie Engst wrote.

Graphic by Ali Leib

However, on-campus housing wasn’t always guaranteed.

“Housing became a very serious problem for the university after World War II,” Director of the UW-Madison Public History Project Kacie Lucchini Butcher said. “After World War II, the university population boomed. We [had] so many students coming back from war. A lot of students had the GI Bill, so their education was being paid for, but also it’s coming at a time when there’s an increased awareness that college is important.”

To accommodate this influx of students, the UW-Madison Campus Planning Commission approved construction efforts for 12 new buildings and expansions on campus following World War II. In the meantime, some students lived in metal huts, tents and trailers wherever there was open space on campus, Features editor Gina Musso discovered.

Finding off-campus options at the time posed other challenges, as the surge in student population occurred before the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968, which legally prohibited individuals from being discriminated against based on their race, religion, national origin, sex, disability and family status.

“So these students would go to apply to these apartment buildings, these dorms, and many students of color and Jewish students would be rejected from these apartment buildings based solely on their religion or their race,” Lucchini Butcher said.

To build more housing facilities, the university had to encroach on Madison’s existing neighborhoods. One of these areas, Madison’s Greenbush neighborhood located south of campus, was a historically Jewish, Italian and Eastern European neighborhood before the city moved residents out for redevelopment.

“So the city kind of comes in and says ‘These are unsafe living conditions, we want to redevelop this area to make it safer for the residents,’” Lucchini Butcher said. “Except they kick all those residents out, tear it down and they don’t let those residents come back. So they force these people out into other places. So this happened all across the country in almost every major city during the 1960s [and] 70s and it continues to happen.”

Lucchini Butcher acknowledged that while these redevelopments were not made specifically for the university, many of the developments that were built were likely intended to be used by the student population.

That’s not to say that UW’s surrounding neighborhoods were the only populations displaced on Madison’s isthmus.

Photo Courtesy of UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Housing division provides students with a plethora of options — one can live by the lake or downtown, in a single or a quad or in a variety of learning communities.

But one thing no student can opt out of is living on stolen land.

Land acknowledgements have made it common knowledge that the state university is on land that has been the ancestral home of the Ho-Chunk people for millennia, but what the university tends to overlook is the historical and present-day implications of its status as a land-grant university.

Last month, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the University of Wisconsin installed a plaque near South Hall on Bascom Hill entitled “Our Shared Future,” representative of the university’s initiative of the same name that aims to demonstrate its respect and support of the sovereign First Nations of Wisconsin.

First-year UW-Madison student Silas Cleveland, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, discussed the university’s land acknowledgment and its purpose.

“It helps people realize that this all was Native land before Manifest Destiny,” Cleveland said about the initiative and the United States’ expansion sparked by 19th-century beliefs that it was inevitable and justifiable.

Cleveland further explained to College news reporter Claire LaLiberte that acknowledgments like the plaque help educate students who may not otherwise think critically about how this land came to belong to the United States — not through a mutual agreement, but by force.

Many public universities like UW-Madison have their origin in the Morrill Act, which was passed under President Abraham Lincoln and distributed the rights to public-domain land to state universities so that they could raise funds.

Today, UW-Madison is proud to call itself a land-grant university, espousing the mission of higher education for all, honoring Lincoln in bronze at the top of Bascom Hill. But both Lincoln and the Morrill Act’s histories are colored with oft-overlooked atrocities. Most see Lincoln as a hero who freed the slaves; few hold him accountable for the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.

Photo by Morgan Winston

In the aftermath of a bloody 1862 conflict between white settlers and several Minnesota bands of Dakota people, the United States tried 303 Dakota men for “killings committed in warfare” (a crime which both sides had committed, as is the nature of war). Their trial was conducted by a U.S. military commission and its fairness reviewed by the U.S. president. Upon review, Lincoln ordered the unjust execution of 38 men.

UW-Madison displays his statue front and center as one of our most iconic campus landmarks.

That same year, Lincoln signed the aforementioned Morrill Act.

In 1832, the Ho-Chunk Nation ceded the land that Madison now occupies. The rights were signed over in a treaty that was then enforced through decades of brutality and violence. The university’s first residence hall, North Hall, is no exception to the historical pattern of disrespect to the land and its people. The construction of the first few buildings on campus destroyed a sacred Ho-Chunk burial mound; it is estimated that over 80% of these mounds were victims of construction in the Madison area, once home to the greatest concentration of mounds in the world.

The installment of UW-Madison’s new “Our Shared Future” plaque goes a step further from just recognizing the existence of Wisconsin’s tribes. The plaque acknowledges the genocide endured by the Ho-Chunk people at the hands of the state and federal governments, and states the university’s eagerness to collaborate with the tribe in order to create a better future —

A future for all who live on this land.