Student activism has a long and rich history at UW-Madison and has helped create 24-hour libraries, caps on tuition increases, student-controlled campus space, and much more. Students continue to have an important role in shaping policy and access to campus resources. If you see something that you want to change or improve at UW-Madison, there are lots of ways for you to make your voice heard.
Associated Students of Madison
The Associated Students of Madison (ASM), which is the student governing body on campus, provides lots of opportunities for you to connect with other passionate students and organize around issues.
One way to get involved is through Shared Governance, which gives faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process for university operations. There are over 70 committees with student appointees, and if you are interested in being a student representative on a committee, you can find out more about the application process and what committees have open seats here.
Another way to get involved in student advocacy work is by joining one of the ASM open committees, which organize around topics such as Equity and Inclusion, Sustainability, and Legislative Affairs. These committees work on grassroots campaigns that benefit students and any UW-Madison student can join. Feel free to contact the Chair of the committee for more information about when and where they meet.
You can also participate in student advocacy by running or applying for a position on Student Council or The Student Services Finance Committee (SSFC). Student Council is the legislative branch of ASM and the SSFC helps allocate over $51 million in segregated fees. Elections for these bodies happen every spring semester.
If you want to learn more about ASM or find out other ways to get involved, fill out their interest form at go.wisc.edu/asm.
Joining Student Organizations
Other than working with the Associated Students of Madison, you can make your voice heard by joining one of the many student organizations on campus that promote student advocacy. These range from identity-based organizations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association or The Pride Society to professional organizations like the Wisconsin Engineering Student Council. You can find a list of all the registered student organizations here, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always start your own!
Your ideas and opinions are important, and we hope that you will share them with campus!
Fast Facts about Student Advocacy at UW-Madison
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The History of Student Government on Campus
Before the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) was founded in 1994, the student governing body on campus was called the Wisconsin Student Association. It officially disbanded in 1993 after being plagued by expensive election campaigns, student apathy, and a lack of transparency. ASM was formed with the cooperation of numerous student organizations after they were notified by the Dean of Students that all student fees funding their organizations would cease without the existence of a student government. ASM’s founders wanted to avoid the mistakes of the Wisconsin Student Association, so they created a body with no executive branch and emphasized broad-reaching student engagement by ensuring any student could join a grassroots committee with full voting rights.
A Timeline of Student Wins
- 1996 ASM negotiates with the City of Madison, Madison Metro Transit, and UW-Madison Campus Transportation Services to create the student bus pass. This has been a staple service of ASM ever since.
- 1999 Recognizing the dire need for student organization space on campus, ASM campaigns for and wins approval of a new Student Activity Center to be constructed at 333 E. Campus Mall.
- 2002 A successful ASM campaign results in College Library hours being expanded to 24 hours a day.
- 2007 ASM pressures campus administration and the faculty to create a mandatory study day before finals, ensuring students have at least one day between the last day of classes and the beginning of finals to study.
- 2008 ASM advocates for a campus grocery store, which results in the inclusion of a grocery store in the University Square building at 333 E. Campus Mall.
- 2010 Citing students’ documented apprehension to call emergency services for help in alcohol related instances, an ASM intern convinces UW-Madison administration and the UWPD to implement a “Medical Amnesty” or “Responsible Action” policy. Now underage students who call for help for a friend will not be cited for underage drinking if they cooperate with the police.
- 2012 ASM leadership successfully negotiates with faculty leadership to add student seats and co-chair roles for students on numerous university committees. Today, these include such groups as the Immigration and International Issues Committee, the Housing and Dining Committee, and the Athletic Board.
- 2012 The ASM Sustainability Committee is formed to coordinate student efforts around campus that promote environment sustainability.
- 2013 ASM successfully coordinates with students from around the state to convince the legislature and Governor to freeze tuition for at least two years.
- 2014 ASM successfully pressures the Chancellor, Athletics, and Recreational Sports to partially fund the new Recreational Sports facilities on campus.
- 2015 ASM organizes around the state budget to reduce a proposed $300 million cut to UW System and extend the tuition freeze for two years.
- 2016 ASM opens the Open Seat food pantry on campus to address the growing problem of student food insecurity.
- 2016 An ASM intern project, the Our Wisconsin diversity program, is piloted with incoming freshmen.
- 2016 ASM successfully advocates for expanded culturally competent mental health services.
- 2019 ASM successfully pressures University Health Services to expand mental health support services for students by creating a Mental Health Task Force, expanding hours of operation on certain days, and hiring 13 new counselors.
- 2020 As a follow up to the “Medical Amnesty” policy won in 2010, ASM pressures administrators to implement the “Amnesty Through Responsible Action” policy. Now, both the caller as well as person in need of medical attention will avoid official sanctions through UW-Madison’s disciplinary process as long as they complete educational follow-up requirements.
Advocacy is more than just ASM
It is also important to note that student activism and advocacy have a much longer history and involve many more players than just ASM. For example, the 1969 Black Student Strike led to the creation of the Afro-American Studies Department as well as generated an important conversation about racism on campus that continues today. Organizations such as the BIPOC Coalition and the Wisconsin Student Climate Action Coalition continue to advocate for changes both in collaboration with and apart from student government.