Chancellor's Blog: Reflections on this week

| Chancellor James Schmidt

I am writing to share with you my reflections on what has been a tumultuous week for our campus community.

We are nearing the end of one of the most divisive, and some would argue, destructive U.S. presidential campaigns in memory. Tuesday, that campaign and all of its tensions landed in the middle of our campus.

The Trump campaign event was in keeping with the long history of this public university making our venues available to candidates for the highest offices in our land.

Thousands of our fellow citizens came to UW-Eau Claire to attend the campaign event, and while most (including supporters as well as protestors) were respectful, others were not.

Unfortunately, those who were not respectful inflicted great harm. I have heard from dozens of people who told me their personal stories of being the targets of racist statements such as “go back to your own country,” racial and homophobic slurs, and acts of intimidation. These stories should be troubling to all members of our campus community.

Some have asked why those who made such terrible statements were not physically removed from campus. The answer is that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that offensive speech — including speech some would describe as hate speech — is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be regulated.

But let me be very clear where I stand both as a person and as your chancellor: I find such speech reprehensible and condemn it. Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean you should.

I also acknowledge the event was disruptive to campus operations and caused some of our students, faculty and staff to become concerned about their physical safety. I am committed to ensuring the physical safety of all members of our campus community.

Individuals concerned about their physical safety must be confident that we have ways to help them. I have directed campus police and staff to undertake a comprehensive review of our current resources and procedures and to make recommendations on how we can improve them.

While the Trump event was managed in the same way as previous presidential campaign visits, including one by Vice President Joe Biden held similarly during a Thursday in 2012, and by Bernie Sanders on Saturday, April 2, this year, I have directed staff to review procedures for how we manage future political campaign events on campus.

That review will look at the following issues during campaign events, among other things:

  • Access to academic buildings, especially Hibbard Hall, during events in Zorn Arena
  • Law enforcement presence
  • Event parking by the general public in university lots during regular parking enforcement hours
  • Use of outdoor speakers to amplify sound from inside the event venue
  • Closing of campus streets to vehicular traffic
  • Pedestrian and bicycle access to campus sidewalks and crossings.

Some of the experiences this week have been extremely painful to members of our campus community. That pain will not subside quickly, if ever. It is my hope that we as a campus community of learners, beginning with me, will use the events of this week to have respectful, genuine conversations around the issues of race, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny. We must also commit to making changes that will demonstrate our intent to be an equitable and inclusive campus community.

I believe if we, as Blugolds — students, faculty, staff and administration — constructively engage in this difficult learning, we will achieve real change on our campus, in our community and in our society.

Finally, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, the UW-Stout international student who died on Monday after being brutally beaten over the weekend in downtown Menomonie. The investigation is ongoing and there is much we do not know — so, out of respect for his family, it is important that we not jump to conclusions about his death. Still, it is rational and understandable, given the history of racially motivated attacks in our country, that his death has left many in the UW-Stout and UW-Eau Claire communities on edge. 

On behalf of UW-Eau Claire, we stand with our sister institution, and our thoughts go out to members of the UW-Stout community and family of Hussain Saeed Alnahdi.

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