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Sixteen UW-Eau Claire staffers, faculty members and students will work in December and January to recommend actions the university can take to respond to two racist incidents this fall.

The Rapid Action Task Force for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will research and make suggestions more quickly than a traditional campus response process, university Chancellor James Schmidt said at a Monday press conference.

“It didn’t seem appropriate for me to go to the campus and say we’ve got a team starting in February or March, then do some additional reporting the following fall,” Schmidt said. “Students and other people were asking for actions now.”

The task force plans to work through the Winterim term, which stretches through January, and hand over its recommendations by Jan. 31, so the university can implement their ideas for the spring 2020 semester, Schmidt said.

Three people will lead the task force as co-chairs: Jan Larson, professor and chair of communication and journalism; Kim Wudi, head women’s volleyball coach; and student Yousra Bentaalla.

Six students, three staff members and four faculty members are also members of the group.

The campus community can do better to respond to racist, homophobic or sexist incidents, said Larson, faculty co-chair of the task force, in a statement: “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.”

The university first used “rapid-action” task forces in 2015 to deal with system-wide budget cuts.

Schmidt also announced Monday that an independent third party will review the university’s athletics program.

Five student athletes were suspended from the university’s football team in November after several Snapchat messages, including references to the Ku Klux Klan and the campus’ Black Male Empowerment group, surfaced. The messages included a picture of a burning cross and referenced a non-existent White Male Empowerment group.

Schmidt said Monday he’s “frustrated” the university will not release information about the disciplinary sanctions it is giving the student athletes involved in the racist social media messages.

The university won’t identify the students or disclose what those sanctions are, Schmidt said Friday in a letter to students, faculty and staff. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents UW-Eau Claire from sharing the sanctions publicly, according to UW System counsel C. Wade Harrison.

Schmidt on Monday declined to comment on if any of the student athletes have appealed their sanctions yet.

If the students appeal, a hearing committee will review the matter.

In addition to the task force, Warren Anderson, new EDI and student affairs vice chancellor, will help develop a long-term diversity plan when he joins the university on Dec. 16.

Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, praised the forming of the task force in a Monday statement: “We must insure that incidents like what happened last month are isolated incidents and not part of greater systematic issues.”

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com,

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