From left, Olga Diaz, UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity, inclusion and student affairs; Blugold athletics director Dan Schumacher; and Chancellor James Schmidt speak at a press conference Monday. Diaz said that UW-Eau Claire is creating new equity, diversity and inclusion programming campus-wide, not only in its athletics department, including a restorative justice program.

EAU CLAIRE — UW-Eau Claire is creating new equity, diversity and inclusion programs campus-wide, including a restorative justice program, after a handful of racist incidents in 2019, university officials said.

A third-party consulting firm announced on Monday it has completed its year-long assessment of equity, diversity and inclusion within the university’s athletics department.

UW-Eau Claire as a whole — not only its athletics department — is also pushing ahead with other EDI initiatives, including a restorative justice program, said Olga Diaz, UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor for EDI and student affairs.

“We are creating one. It will be an option, and we’re talking about making a similar process for employees,” Diaz said Monday.

Restorative justice programs, which have begun to pop up in U.S. schools and universities, typically focus on the person who caused harm accepting responsibility, repairing that harm and rebuilding trust, according to a similar program at UW-Madison.

Restorative justice became a talking point at UW-Eau Claire when a university task force proposed creating such a program in response to a racist incident in 2019.

In that incident, five Blugold football players took part in racist Snapchat messages that referenced the Ku Klux Klan.

The five student athletes were suspended in November 2019 when screenshots of the messages were shared with news media. All five were formally reinstated to the football team in September 2020 when a UW-Eau Claire panel found that they hadn’t violated the UW System code of conduct.

In the meantime, a 14-member UW-Eau Claire task force in February 2020 recommended the university implement a restorative justice program.

Blugold football Coach Wesley Beschorner said in fall 2020 that the university had “strongly urged” the athletes to participate in restorative justice. In October he told the Leader-Telegram the players had agreed to take part in restorative justice efforts.

“Restorative justice is a practice that both parties need to be willing to participate in,” Diaz said Monday. “Oftentimes when something traumatic happens, time needs to pass before both parties can participate … In the absence of absolute willingness, we revert to our student code of conduct.”

The university also launched its new Center for Racial and Restorative Justice in the fall, Diaz noted. Officials have said it will anchor student and faculty research on race and host guest speakers.

All new students also must complete EDI training, Diaz said at the press conference Monday.

“We’re trying to figure out how to capture missed opportunities there. We have to make sure everybody gets some fundamental knowledge in these areas,” Diaz said.

Diaz joined UW-Eau Claire on June 14, succeeding Dr. Warren Anderson, who was the university’s former vice chancellor for EDI and student affairs.

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

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.