It was just a fun two-minute video, meant to bring students and alumni together for Homecoming Week. But it did just the opposite.

A video for the University of Wisconsin made national headlines when it was posted online. And not the kind of headlines the school wanted.

(I should mention that Allied Pixel had nothing to do with this video.)

So here’s what happened. The student homecoming committee created a video that showed young men and women cheering at a football game, dancing in unison, riding bicycles in a sleek line, “throwing the W” for the camera, singing a cappella, leaping into a lake.

The only problem was, nearly everyone in the video was white.

Within hours of being posted on Facebook, the video had triggered outrage across campus.

As the New York Times wrote:

This is the story of a video that galvanized and divided a university plagued by a history of racist incidents, as told by the people who saw it happen. Black students in particular say the homecoming video crystallized a daily fact of life: They feel they are not wanted at the University of Wisconsin, where there are significantly fewer African-Americans per capita than in the state, which is mostly white. This fall, more than 30,000 undergraduates began the school year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fewer than 1,000 of them are African-American.

A reporter for the school newspaper wrote, “It made people uncomfortable, seeing a lot of people who look alike representing the university. And it woke people up, saying, this is actually what our university looks like.”

The video was deleted, but copies that students had made were watched on phones in dorms, coffee shops and the student union. Campus newspapers covered the story, and so did The Wisconsin State Journal, in which a headline declared, “UW-Madison Apologizes for Now-Deleted Homecoming Video of Nearly All-White Student Body.”

Let’s view this is a cautionary tale. The reality is that we are living in a time of heightened tensions about equality, race relations, politics, social justice and more. It’s incumbent on us, as video creators, to be thoughtful about the messages we’re sending out. No one wants to feel excluded. No one wants to feel disrespected. No one wants to feel marginalized.

So how do we avoid unintentionally doing that? It comes down to being intentionally inclusive. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Is it ethnically diverse?
  2. Is it gender diverse?
  3. Is it age diverse?
  4. Does it fairly reflect the composition of your campus?
  5. Does it avoid messaging that could be negatively construed by historically marginalized groups on campus?
  6. Does it reflect the values and aspirations of your organization?

If you can answer Yes to each of those questions, your video should be well received. If not, go back and fix it.

‘Til next time,

Bill Haley

P.S. Have a topic you’d like to see discussed? Let me know and I’ll try to get to it in a future post.