Kayde Langer had planned a low-key Sunday in anticipation for her 21st birthday Monday. Those plans changed abruptly when Langer saw the racist message on her dorm room door Sunday morning.
The message, written in permanent marker on a paper avocado Langer had taped to her door, read “go back to the rez,” followed by a racial slur. Langer, a junior who is Red Lake Ojibwe, reacted with surprise and anger.
Langer had “pushed things under the rug before” but did not do so this time, tweeting a picture of the door Sunday afternoon.
Her tweet received significant attention. In response, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt tweeted, in part, Sunday evening: “There is no place for hate speech [at] UWEauClaire. The racist who wrote this despicable comment is not welcome on this campus.”
Schmidt issued a full statement Monday afternoon informing students, faculty and staff that the university is conducting a multi-department investigation into the incident. The investigation includes the dean of students, the Bias Incident Response Team, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Housing and Residence Life along with aid from UW-Eau Claire police.
Schmidt condemned all forms of racism and hate speech on campus.
“This kind of racist slur is simply antithetical to who we are as a university that values equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Schmidt wrote. “UW-Eau Claire is committed to providing an exceptional educational experience that allows all students, faculty, and staff to thrive and succeed. I mean all Blugolds, without exception. When a member of our Blugold Family is targeted, we are all impacted and called to speak with one voice against bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance. This campus must act when hatred rears its ugly head.”
Regarding potential discipline, Schmidt wrote that “all resources governing university conduct, including Chapter 17 of State Statutes’ administrative code for the UW System and all related university or regent policies, will be used to address this situation.”
Mike Rindo, UW-Eau Claire’s assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said if the individual or individuals responsible are found, the university will go through an adjudication process to determine proper discipline, up to and including expulsion.
Langer was unequivocal about what should happen to the person or people who wrote the message, saying they should be removed from campus. However, she did not express confidence the individuals will be caught, partly because, for privacy reasons, there are no video cameras in dorm hallways.
Langer grew up in Osceola and is studying sociology with minors in American Indian studies and political science. She is beginning her second academic year at UW-Eau Claire after attending UW-Marathon County in Wausau for a year and is involved in student government, serving as a campus senator and vice president of the Inter-Tribal Student Council.
The racist message is the most severe incident Langer has experienced since attending UW-Eau Claire but is not an isolated event, she said. Last week, a derogatory term for an American Indian woman was written in pencil on her door.
Rindo said it is not the first time a racist incident has occurred at UW-Eau Claire, but he does not view it as part of a larger pattern on campus. Rindo found out about the incident Sunday around 5 p.m. and said he responded with sadness and anger.
Rindo was part of the university administrative team that met Monday morning to discuss the proper way to handle the racist incident. He noted that diversity and inclusiveness are part of the university’s values, and UW-Eau Claire has had a Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Student Affairs for three years. Rindo said conversations about those topics occurred for several years before the EDISA division was formed.
Langer intends to continue attending UW-Eau Claire but said more can be done to ensure she and other students like her feel welcome and safe.
“On campus at night is not a good spot for students of color,” Langer said.
Langer hopes to see large-scale changes implemented by UW-Eau Claire, which she said provides a “bubble of protection” for racist acts by students due to lack of accountability.
“We need to actually attack the system that’s protecting them,” Langer said.
Rindo said social progress has been made during his 19 years on campus but acknowledged that there is a long way to go. Rindo called the incident a complex problem that requires multidisciplinary efforts across campus.
“If there were levers that you could pull that would get you results, we’d already have done it,” Rindo said. “We’ve got a lot of smart people working on this and doing it in a way that we really, truly believe is going to move the needle, but you have to be persistent.”
Langer said all people, not only students of color, must call out troubling actions on campus. By shedding light on ugly incidents like the one that occurred Sunday, Langer hopes to raise awareness and help bring about a safer, more understanding campus climate.
Langer is still processing the incident but plans to keep the racist message on the door until UW-Eau Claire fully handles the matter.
“I want people to be educated on this,” Langer said. “I don’t want them to pretend like this situation didn’t happen.”
A day of celebration for Langer turned into meetings with university officials, interviews with media outlets and replies to messages on social media. Despite the largely positive response, Langer said the incident has been overwhelming and put a pause on her life.
“I turned 21 today,” Langer said. “I should be going out and having a good time with my friends, but I have to address this.”