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Students see opportunities in new Center for Racial and Restorative Justice

| Gary Johnson

The new Center for Racial and Restorative Justice on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus can be an important step to make the university more inclusive and students more informed about racial and social issues, according to students who discussed the topic this week.

UW-Eau Claire on Monday announced establishment of the center to educate students and the greater Eau Claire community and to prepare undergraduates to become agents of change on racial and social justice issues in America.

Victor Hofmeister, a junior graphic design major from Nekoosa, calls the center a “fantastic idea,” especially in light of racial issues on campus during the 2019-20 academic year. 

“I think it stemmed from cultural and racial ignorance,” Hofmeister, who identifies as white/Hispanic, says of last year’s incidents. “If this is successful, it will hopefully spread awareness and support the students to start making changes on campus.”

Hofmeister is encouraged by the center’s monthly “Racing Toward Justice” program that begins Sept. 29 that features national speakers who focus on cultural and racial awareness.

“For students of color, I think the statistics can be intimidating that our school is predominantly Caucasian,” Hofmeister says. “I think every program or every organization that helps people feel comfortable is more than welcome.”

Jasmine Rosario, a sophomore marketing major from Chicago, says the center is “absolutely” needed on campus. Rosario, who identifies as an African American, said students who are not a minority don’t think or worry about racial issues on campus.

“It’s hard to learn about racial issues and racial equality unless you’re actively searching for it on campus,” Rosario says.

In an email to the campus community on Monday, Dr. Warren Anderson, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and student affairs, calls establishment of the center “a timely and important response to the challenges and opportunities of the past year.” Anderson says the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police has “galvanized college students in a way that this generation has never seen.”

“Colleges and universities across the country are being forced to address historic and systemic patterns of oppression and discrimination, and examine internal structures that serve as barriers to true equality,” Anderson says.

Dr. LaRue Pierce, UW-Eau Claire’s dean of students, says there is an interconnection between racial and restorative justice, and the center on campus will provide opportunities to conduct research and engage in conversations about race.

“Restorative justice/practice builds opportunities for individuals to discuss issues and events that impact an individual or community,” Pierce says. “The process requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions and acknowledge how their actions impact others. This is an important step in victim and community healing.”

UW-Eau Claire sophomore Jordan Blue, an elementary and special education major from Baraboo, sees the new center as an “absolute positive” step forward for the university and community. Blue says he likely will use the restorative justice practices as a classroom teacher one day and in his daily life.

“Our university is growing and students are different — from different backgrounds, beliefs and parts of the world,” says Blue, who last year lived on the Rainbow Floor in Karlgaard Towers, a living community for LGBTQIA+ students and allies. “Providing this center and resources is an incredible tool that students will be able to take into their everyday lives and bring with them wherever they go.”

Blue, who is white, believes that The Center for Racial and Restorative Justice is a positive development that will be attractive to prospective students.

“I hope the university continues to listen to students and amplifies voices of the ones who need their stories heard,” Blue says. “So many of us have different experiences, perspectives and stories and I think that’s what’s so great about the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. We’re all different, coming together to learn, grow and find our way.”