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Experienced diversity educator joins UW-Eau Claire to direct Center for Racial and Restorative Justice

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Catherine Emmanuelle, a 2011 women's studies alumna, joined UW-Eau Claire in late June as the inaugural director of the Center for Racial and Restorative Justice.

Through her work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of Extension in rural and urban western Wisconsin, Catherine Emmanuelle says she has “experienced the power of transformative education and carried it into the role of community-based educator.”  

“I taught in a rural county that is home to the fifth largest rate of growth of Latina/o population in the United States,” Emmanuelle says, noting the growth is largely due to meatpacking and other manufacturing plants in Trempealeau County.  

“My great-grandmother worked in poultry and fruit packing facilities when she arrived in the states as a teenager from Mexico. I felt a deep connection and commitment to this rural community as I wondered who, if anyone, had been there years ago to support immigrants like those in my own family.”    

Emmanuelle is bringing that support experience to UW-Eau Claire in her new role as the inaugural director of the university’s Center for Racial and Restorative Justice (CRRJ), the position she officially started on June 29.  

Emmanuelle, a 2011 women’s studies graduate of UW-Eau Claire, has spent the last nine years working in UW-Madison's Division of Extension, first as a family living educator, extending university resources to and with residents in Trempealeau County.  

For the last five years she was an area extension director for Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire County Extension departments, leading a team of 19, including support staff, university faculty and academic staff in areas of agriculture, community development, youth advocacy, human development and health and well-being initiatives. Their efforts focused on expanding access to university resources with underserved populations as it pertains to race, ethnicity and gender. 

Emmanuelle served as an at-large member of the Eau Claire City Council for nearly 10 years, her last three years as council vice president. Her key accomplishments on the council included: 

  • Bringing participatory budgeting to the community, the first in the state.
  • Funding social work staff in the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, another first-of-its-kind state program.
  • Championing Eau Claire’s designation as an All-America City.  

“As a proud alumna of UW-Eau Claire, I’m excited to bring my personal and professional commitment to leading and supporting efforts to create sustainable cultural change around issues of race and justice,” Emmanuelle says.  

The CRRJ is grounded in the need for improved research and action, focused on racial, social and restorative justice at UW-Eau Claire. 

As CRRJ director, Emmanuelle joins the leadership team of UW-Eau Claire’s Division of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Student Affairs (EDISA), a team under the direction of vice chancellor Olga Diaz. Diaz is pleased to fill the CRRJ director position with someone so deeply rooted in the community with a long history of EDI experience.  

“I am thrilled to have Catherine Emmanuelle join the EDISA team as the director of our Center for Racial and Restorative Justice,” Diaz says. “Her experience and enthusiasm for community advocacy will be instrumental as our center continues to take shape.”  

The right education and experiences for the job 

After completing her bachelor's degree at UW-Eau Claire, Emmanuelle earned a master’s degree in advocacy and political leadership at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2014. She has earned many distinctions for her advocacy and education work, including:  

  • Outstanding Woman of Color in Education, UW System, 2013. 
  • Best Community Advocate, Volume One, 2014.
  • Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award, UW-Eau Claire, 2017. 
  • Sí Se Puede: Wisconsin’s Most Powerful Latinos, 2019. 

Dr. Katherine Rhoades, a professor and dean emerita at UW-Eau Claire, first met Emmanuelle in the role of faculty research mentor for Emmanuelle’s undergraduate research project in women’s studies. As her continuing mentor for over a decade since that time, Rhoades is confident that Emmanuelle brings all the necessary tools and strengths to the CRRJ director position.  

“In the 15 years that I have known Catherine Emmanuelle, I have been delighted to witness her extraordinary evolution as a visionary educator, successful scholarly researcher, inspirational civic leader and community advocate,” Rhoades says.  

“She is uniquely prepared to lead the newly established Center for Racial and Restorative Justice to fulfill its vision of confronting racism and its impacts by serving as a clearinghouse for research, scholarship, advocacy and action. She will bring unflagging passion as well as courage, curiosity and conviction to any task she undertakes in this role. Catherine exemplifies precisely how great leaders can and do make a positive difference in a participatory democracy.”  

First steps and goals  

The CRRJ was created in 2020. Dr. Heather Ann Moody and Dr. Roderick Jones co-chaired the center’s implementation team report. Additionally, Moody served as the acting director of the CRRJ. A robust team of university colleagues from the Barron and Eau Claire campuses have contributed service to the CRRJ’s co-planning and development team, implementation team, advisory team and the director search and screen committee. 

Just a few weeks into her directorship, Emmanuelle says she is “listening and learning about the important efforts and plans that will help to form the future of the CRRJ.” A first step included hiring student intern Eliassah Larson, a junior public health major from Eau Claire, who will work with the CRRJ until she graduates in May 2023.

“Eliassah and I have fired up the center’s foundational cylinders, including studying the CRRJ’s final report, setting up a framework for additional campus collaborations, planning how we will introduce the center with students this fall, and working with campus colleagues as we co-host films and authors that will help us reflect and dialog, fostering empathy and intellectual courage as we explore racial, social and restorative justice,” Emmanuelle says.  

On the topic of a physical space for the CRRJ to call home, Emmanuelle says that too is going to be a process of collecting and processing data and opinions, consulting with campus stakeholders and understanding the elements of best practices to make the center successful for the people it will serve.  

“It’s important that the space or spaces of the center be accessible, welcoming and aligned to accomplish the CRRJ’s mission, and it’s yet to be seen exactly where that is,” Emmanuelle says, noting her trust that the “right solutions” will become more clear as she becomes more familiar with the needs and priorities.  

Emmanuelle is eager to engage with people, both on and off campus, noting, “I have a relationship-centered leadership philosophy, and I will be spending a lot of time getting to know students, colleagues and friends of the university,” she says.

“It’s relationships on the Barron and Eau Claire campuses and our communities at-large that will help bring life to the center. There is a lot of work to be done,” she says. “I'm ready to work with people, to put our hearts in action and our boots on the ground to help turn the tide in meaningful and inclusive ways.”

If you have an idea or want to connect, Emmanuelle can be reached at