On Monday I took a seventeen year-old high school student, his younger brother, and his parents to see the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Vincent dreams of going to Madison, but he and the rest of his Chinese immigrant family were afraid to visit the large campus on their own. We parked in the Lake Street parking ramp, so when we stepped from our cars, the family’s first look of campus was the intimidating high rise dorms in the Southeast housing complex. That was a mistake on my part, as the massive towers confirmed their fears about the Madison campus. It took the Terrace at Memorial Union to calm them down, and by the time we got to the College of Agriculture side of campus and the Hogwarts-style dorms by the lakeshore, they were sold on the place. I remembered during my own time as a UW student that the Southeast dorms were preferred by students from the East Coast, and the Lakeshore dorms served mostly freshman from small town Wisconsin (which included me).

In addition to my guided walk up and over Bascom Hill, I signed all of us up for a tour organized by the school’s admissions office. The mantra of the two student tour guides was that the school, in spite of its immense size, is an intimate place. That aspect of the sales pitch interested me. I assume most students who attend UW do so because they want to be somewhat overwhelmed, but the focus of the tour clearly was that the university will work hard to give students the personal support they need. 

The only dorm we walked into was Dejope, the newest and most apartment-style living accommodations on campus. In the first floor lounge, I found a plaque that explained that Dejope is the Hochunk word for “Four Lakes” and the Madison area was known as Four Lakes by the indigenous people who were displaced to build the university. At Clare’s graduation at Grinnell this past May, the first words spoken at the formal ceremony were an acknowledgement of the indigenous people who once occupied the land where that campus now stands. I think of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Grinnell College as two of the most liberal colleges in the country, so I don’t know whether attempts to recognize displaced native nations are widespread or unique to these two campuses. Regardless, it is an example of political correctness that makes sense to me. 

Vincent’s parents own a small carryout Chinese restaurant. Their goal in life, which I think is common among Chinese immigrant restauranteurs, is for their children not to take over the business. Every fourth shop on Madison’s State Street is now a small Asian restaurant and about half of those restaurants are Chinese. When we walked up State Street to get ice cream at the Chocolate Shoppe, Vincent’s mom studied the menus and the decor of each Chinese restaurant we passed. Also we ate lunch in the student union, and she pointed out the non-Asian student cooking with a wok in the union food court. She laughed at the way he handled the utensils, but did so because he was actually using them correctly.

By coincidence, Monday was also Clare’s first day at her new job in Madison. For that reason, Manyu and I drove in a separate car from Vincent’s family, and we remained in town after the Lu family headed back to La Crosse. Manyu helped Clare expand her wardrobe beyond jeans and teeshirts, and then Manyu and I took her out for dinner to celebrate her new job. Vincent and Clare are at different stages in their young adult lives. Even though I never again want classes or work to dictate my daily schedule, I envy both of them. 

Steven Simpson