An image sent in a Snapchat group among UW-Eau Claire student athletes depicts a cross burning at a Ku Klux Klan event. Five student athletes have been suspended from the university's football team, and the UW-Eau Claire dean of students office is conducting a formal investigation into the incident.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt provided more information regarding the suspension of five student athletes from the university’s football team in connection with racist Snapchat messages, which included references to the Black Male Empowerment group on campus.

UW-Eau Claire Dean of Students LaRue Pierce and his office are investigating the incident. The investigation remains open, but Schmidt expects it will conclude soon.

Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said Wednesday the university cannot identify the suspended students because an investigation is ongoing.

The messages in the Snapchat string included a picture of a cross burning at a Ku Klux Klan event. “For all who can’t make the BME meeting, (name deleted) and I are holding WME tonight at 7,” a message reads, referencing a non-existent White Male Empowerment group.

“I’ll be there but I’ll be like 5 minutes late. Think the cross will still be burning? Don’t wanna miss that again,” said another message.

“Yeah we don’t do it till 10 minutes in. That pic is from last weeks meeting,” replied a message referencing the burning cross.

Schmidt released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning the messages and providing updates on the investigation and campus plans going forward.

“This is a dark time for our university,” Schmidt wrote. “This incident has left our campus shocked, saddened and, for some, scared … Let me begin by apologizing for not sending this message sooner. I had hoped to send it yesterday, but I wanted to make sure I had accurate information to share with you; I simply ran out of time. For that, I am sorry.”

Schmidt, who met Wednesday evening with BME members, called the messages despicable and disgusting.

“The use of an image of a burning cross at an apparent Ku Klux Klan rally is especially disturbing,” Schmidt wrote. “It is an image that conjures memories of some of the worst atrocities committed against people of color, especially African Americans, in our recent national history. Some of our students, faculty and staff of color likely have had family members who were targeted by such Klan actions. For them, this is personal and visceral. Regardless of intent, the very real impact of the social media posts was that they negatively targeted a specific group of UW-Eau Claire students.”

In addition to suspension from the football team, Schmidt said “additional, appropriate sanctions may result, pending the outcomes of the investigation.”

The statement continued, with Schmidt noting the incident has his full attention.

“I know we have much work to do around (equity, diversity and inclusion) issues,” Schmidt wrote. “I am committed to concluding our investigation in a timely way and will provide the campus with an update on our progress before the Thanksgiving break.”

In the statement, Schmidt also provided an update on activity taken by university officials since Tuesday afternoon in response to the messages.

UW-Eau Claire Athletic Director Dan Schumacher immediately suspended all social media groups involving university athletic teams “until and unless they are being monitored by coaches and other athletics staff members.”

Schumacher and football head coach Wesley Beschorner held an emergency meeting with the football team “to discuss the incident, and to make clear this kind of racist behavior is not acceptable for any Blugold who represents UW-Eau Claire while wearing our university uniform.”

Dang Yang, director of the university's Office of Multicultural Affairs, and his staff reached out to students of color to offer resources and support. OMA employees and Demetrius Smith, the university’s EDI program director, will meet privately with students this evening.

Schmidt encouraged all university members “to continue to report racist or hate incidents to our Bias/Hate Incident Response Team.”

On Thursday afternoon, UW-Eau Claire Counseling Services tweeted a statement offering support and listing drop-in hours at the OMA office in Centennial Hall.

“Counseling Services is aware that many students have been impacted by an online thread that included racist discourse and a picture of a KKK rally with a burning cross targeted members of Black Male Empowerment (BME),” the statement reads in part. “...We invite you to seek out these services or reach out to Counseling Services staff directly to schedule an appointment by calling 715-836-5521. Remember, you do not have to manage everything on your own, we are here to help.”

This is the second racist incident UW-Eau Claire has publicly dealt with this school year. In September a message telling junior Kayde Langer, who is Red Lake Ojibwe, to “go back to the rez” included a racial slur written on her dorm room door. An investigation into that incident remains open.