I am writing to offer reflections about the extraordinary events of this past week. The series of racist social media posts that became public Tuesday, November 19, sent a shockwave through our campus, and the reverberations of that shockwave will continue to have profound impacts.
Those impacts manifested themselves in the form of two meaningful gatherings this week. Monday, students organized a peaceful and powerful silent protest on the campus mall and in Schofield Hall. Leaders of Black Male Empowerment — the group that was the target of the racist comments and images — came to my office to present a list of their grievances and requests for action. I then joined the group in solidarity at their protest and was graciously invited to share some of my thoughts and observations about ongoing racism at UW-Eau Claire. I was extremely impressed and proud of the way our students conducted themselves. We can learn much from them. More important, we must act now to make changes for our students. (View a video of the protest.)
Tuesday afternoon, for one of the few times in the more than 100-year history of our campus, an all-faculty meeting was convened to discuss what happened and explore ways we can work more effectively with students, faculty and staff to confront racism and bias and better educate ourselves and our students about these important issues. I acknowledged that I was slow to communicate information about this incident to the campus and specifically to faculty who may have had the students in question in their classes, and that we have not moved quickly enough to implement preventive strategies that we have already identified. The chair of the University Senate, Dr. Evan Weiher, said that information gathered at the meeting and from others who were not able to attend would be used to formulate action items that will be considered by the senate at its first meeting in December. Again, I was impressed by the breadth and depth of the discussion during the all-faculty meeting and look forward to working with shared governance on identifying and implementing initiatives to address racism and bias at UW-Eau Claire.
It is clearer than ever to me that the hateful words and images contained in those horrible racist posts have been deeply damaging — in a very personal way — to many of our students, faculty and staff. This is especially true for our colleagues and students of color and other underrepresented groups.
As chancellor, I pledge to you that we will do everything possible to make UW-Eau Claire a welcoming and inclusive place for all students, faculty and staff, and I will be asking each and every one of you to join me in those efforts. We can and must do better.