WILL Warns UW-Madison: Mental Health Counselors Cannot Discriminate on Basis of Race

UPDATE: UW-Madison quietly updated their announcement, nearly a month after it went out, to suggest their mental health counselors will not serve students exclusively on the basis of race. 

WILL Deputy Counsel, Dan Lennington, said, “While we don’t necessarily oppose counselors claiming certain expertise in issues facing students of color, we remain concerned that such “expertise” will consist of little more than stereotypes and worry about the disparate treatment that such stereotypical thinking might beget. We do read UW’s revised release to abandon the notion of making counseling resources exclusively available to students on the basis of race. Should this understanding be incorrect or should counseling services be provided in a discriminatory way, UW may be hearing from us.”

Public institutions cannot offer or restrict services based on race

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a letter to University of Wisconsin System President, Tommy Thompson, and University of Wisconsin- Madison, Rebecca Blank, warning the leaders that recently hired mental health counselors cannot be assigned to serve only non-white students. A recent announcement from UW-Madison said three new mental health counselors, hired in September, “will exclusively serve students of color.”

The Quote: WILL Deputy Counsel, Dan Lennington, said, “Race discrimination has no place in American society. Students struggling with mental health issues should not be segregated into racial groups—they should be treated as individuals. UW should reverse course immediately.”

Background: On September 9, 2021, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced the hiring of nine new mental health counselors. According to the press release, “[t]hree of these providers will exclusively serve students of color, joining eight providers already in this role.”

The Wisconsin Constitution and the United States Constitution emphatically prohibit race discrimination by government entities like UW-Madison. Numerous federal and state laws similarly prohibit race discrimination. A state agency that receives federal funding, such as UW, may not treat students differently based on race under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

WILL’s letter demands UW-Madison revise their policy immediately, adjust relevant job descriptions and assignments, and reaffirm their own statements of nondiscrimination. Failure to do so may result in legal action.

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