Tobie Black ’98, MA’00 found plenty of things to fill her time at the UW. While double-majoring in French and Spanish as a Chancellor's Scholar, she also served as a House Fellow, volunteered at WORT radio, and helped revive Discourse, a student-run publication designed to uplift the voices of people of color on campus. She's spent most of her time since graduation — 19 dedicated years — as a public servant for the city of Milwaukee. Spend a few moments looking back with Black as she reflects on her UW days and looks ahead to her next steps.
What's your best dorm horror story?
It was during my first year as a House Fellow at Chadbourne Hall. I don’t remember if it was Halloween or some other crazy event, but we knew that there was going to be trouble, so all of the House Fellows were on duty that night. Things got a little crazy, and by crazy, I mean students running up and down the halls on multiple floors, screaming, kicking holes in walls and even punching holes in the ceilings! It was absolute madness. For my second year with Housing, I packed up and switched over to the then-all-female Elizabeth Waters Residence Hall. Let’s just say it was a better fit for my gentle disposition and leave it at that!
What accomplishments or projects are you most proud of working on in the last 25 years?
For the past 19 years, I have been a dedicated public servant working for the city of Milwaukee. I’ve worked in a few positions over the years in City Hall, including staffing the Common Council. It’s challenging work, but seeing the intricacies of how local government works and the immense impact it has in the average person’s life has been invaluable and has enriched my life on a personal level.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m still working for the city and I’m trying to figure out my next steps: my second act, if you will. Middle age can do that to you. I just earned my certification as a certified deposition reporter, so we’ll see where that might take me.
Are there any courses or professors from the UW that have had a lasting influence on you?
She wasn’t technically a professor, but Assistant Vice Chancellor Dr. Mercile J. Lee was a great influence. I was fortunate enough to know her when I was in the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, which is now named after her. She had such a grace and regalness about her, and she was definitely no-nonsense. But she really cared about students and was such an advocate for diversity, education, and the success of minority students on campus. She was also someone you could go to when you were struggling or needed help. I’m privileged to have known her.
What’s your best memory from your time on campus?
I loved my years at UW-Madison so much. Between my time with friends hanging out in the dorms (I’m still friends with some of them today), taking “Mini Courses” in all sorts of subjects, my short stint as a volunteer at WORT Radio, and just walking around the beautiful campus, feeling so safe — I can’t choose one best memory. It was a wonderful time in my life and I can’t imagine who or where I’d be without the experience.
Can you tell me more about Discourse and why it was important to you to help revive the publication on campus?
My friend, Patrice, had a passion for journalism and I definitely had an interest in it. (I actually went on to get my master’s in journalism.) We had an opportunity to partner with The Daily Cardinal for distribution, and Discourse was revived to spotlight students and staff of color on campus. There were efforts towards increasing and celebrating diversity on campus back in the ‘90s, for sure. But not like there are now.
Discourse focused on telling the stories of students of color and provided an opportunity to highlight the issues some of us faced and our experiences at UW-Madison. I did a little of everything: writing articles, setting the layout, taking pictures for the publication. It was hard work and a learning experience. I think I still have an issue or two somewhere in storage!