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Chancellor names rapid action task force, authorizes athletics program review

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt announced Dec. 9 two significant steps the university is taking in the wake of two incidents involving racist messages that occurred on campus during the fall semester. Schmidt announced the formation of a Rapid Action Task Force for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), and an independent third-party review of the university’s intercollegiate athletics program.

The Rapid Action Task Force for EDI is comprised of 16 members that include students, faculty and staff. (Members are listed below.) The task force will identify specific, immediate actions that can be implemented by the end of the current academic year. The task force met for the first time Dec. 9 and will provide its recommendations to the chancellor by Jan. 31. (Read the task force's charge.)

Jan Larson, faculty co-chair of the task force, noted that while the university cannot protect every student from all forms of oppression, the campus community can do better in its response when racist, homophobic or sexist incidents occur.

“Through our task force, we can commit to develop a culture, methods of communication and measures of accountability that will support our students, staff and faculty of color and engage consequences when wrongdoing occurs,” Larson said.

Schmidt said the group will work with a sense of urgency.

“Racism continues to be an endemic problem in our country, and college campuses are not immune to this reality,” Schmidt said. “This rapid action task force is a cross-section of our campus community, people who are dedicated to creating an inclusive environment and finding solutions to problems. I look forward to reviewing their recommendations put forth in the next few months.”

Schmidt also announced that in response to a request from UW-Eau Claire Director of Athletics Dan Schumacher, the university will engage a third party to conduct a thorough, independent review of the intercollegiate athletics department and its programs.

“Our students, faculty and staff shared their concerns with me following the racist social media post that came to light in November,” Schmidt said. “We must ensure our athletics department is fully aligned with the equity, diversity and inclusion goals of our campus community.”

“The athletics department is committed to UW-Eau Claire’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals in all facets,” Schumacher said.  “I agree with Chancellor Schmidt’s assessment that the racist imagery posted on social media was reprehensible and not consistent with our values. The independent program review is an important and necessary step.”

The university is in the process of seeking proposals from qualified external individuals or organizations to conduct the athletics program review. Once engaged, the third-party independent reviewer will report directly to Schmidt.

The Rapid Action Task Force for EDI has convened and will work during Winterim, the break between the fall and spring semester. Schmidt said he expects the task force to develop recommendations and prioritize actions.

In addition to the rapid action task force, Schmidt said new EDI and Student Affairs Vice Chancellor Warren Anderson will work with a team to develop a long-term EDI plan to dovetail with the university’s 2025 strategic plan. Anderson, who will join UW-Eau Claire on Dec. 16, has broad experience leading student affairs and EDI-related initiatives.

“There are steps that we need to take right now to identify and implement needed change,” Schmidt said. “I trust the rapid action task force will identify action we can begin now. In addition, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Anderson, a strategic long-term plan with proactive measures will help ensure we are taking a comprehensive, institutionwide approach to creating a more equitable, diverse and inclusive UW-Eau Claire.”

EDI Rapid Action Task Force Members

  • Jan Larson, Communication and Journalism
  • Youssra Bentaalla, Student
  • Kim Wudi, Athletics
  • Silviana Amethyst, Mathematics
  • Peter Hart-Brinson, Sociology
  • Stacey Jackson, Psychology
  • David Jones, English
  • Ben Bechle, Housing and Residence Life
  • Khong Meng Her, Blugold Beginnings
  • Jenni Sterling, University Centers
  • Stephanie Hoeksema      
  • Erika Nguyen
  • Aja St. Germaine
  • Miranda Ricci, UW-Eau Claire – Barron County
  • Aruwin Santherasegaren
  • Annie Titus