In early November, the La Follette School held the first Elevating Equity in Policymaking event of the fall semester. La Follette students, faculty, and staff gathered to meet with La Follette alum Wesley Sparkman (MPA ’00) to discuss how to address racial, gender, and disability disparities by raising awareness, eliminating disparities, and achieving equity. Sparkman is the director of the Dane County Tamara D. Grigsby Office for Equity and Inclusion where he oversees the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, Contact Compliance, and Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Compliance functions.
To kick off the discussion, Sparkman shared his background and personal experience as a student at UW–Madison, where he had the chance to live with diverse roommates from different backgrounds. He also shared his experiences with stereotypes as a student. Sparkman spoke about the importance of self-care and recommended that student leaders working on diversity and equity issues put themselves first to avoid burnout. His biggest piece of advice for La Follette students was to get involved in volunteerism, noting that it allows you to feel empowered by the communities in Wisconsin.
In his role as a director, Sparkman is responsible for implementing the recommendations of the 2015 Dane County Racial Equity Analysis & Recommendations report, which was conducted by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. He discussed the economic necessity of increasing the number of county employees from communities of color so that everyone can share in the county’s economic prosperity. Finally, Sparkman highlighted how his experience in the La Follette School’s MPA program has influenced his work, and how equity courses are important to the UW community in understanding disparities and the importance of equity.
The Elevating Equity in Policymaking event series is a student-led speaker series which began in the summer of 2020 in response to a request from La Follette students to learn from community leaders in developing and implementing equitable policies and programs. The events connect the La Follette community with Wisconsin community leaders to share the importance of applying equity in evidence-based policymaking.
– Story by Dominique Villaseñor