Racism Protest

Over 300 people, including students, faculty and staff members, attended a silent protest against racist incidents Nov. 25 at UW-Eau Claire. Students leading the protest decried a “culture of racism and bias” in the university’s athletic department, asking for institutional change. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

A third-party representative will conduct an investigation into the UW-Eau Claire athletic department following a string of racist Snapchat messages, the university announced Monday in a press conference.

Athletic director Dan Schumacher, making his first public comments since the messages became widely circulated on Nov. 19, said he requested the deep dive into his department to university Chancellor James Schmidt.

“These past couple of weeks have been a difficult time for our athletic department,” Schumacher said in the Alumni Room of Davies Center. “This is an important first step in moving forward. ...

“I expect every coach, every team, every student athlete, to embrace the equity, diversity and inclusion goals our campus community has outlined. Our entire department is committed to excellence, and our EDI goals are critical to our success. We are fully ready to embrace this program review.”

Schmidt did not specify which third party will be performing the investigation.

“I’ve received a list of recommendations from individuals and organizations that conduct these kinds of reviews,” Schmidt said. “We’ll go through the process of evaluating that.”

The announcement coincided with the university introducing a task force to handle EDI issues. Among the 16 members is UW-Eau Claire volleyball coach Kim Wudi.

Five members of the Blugold football team were suspended last month after messages surfaced that included references to the Ku Klux Klan and the campus’ Black Male Empowerment group. The messages included a picture of a burning cross and references to a non-existent White Male Empowerment group.

“For all who can’t make the BME meeting, (name deleted) and I are holding WME tonight at 7,” a message reads.

“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.

Since, several hundred students gathered at the center of campus for a silent rally and faculty organized a forum on how to handle biased incidents and improve campus climate. Schmidt has also directed the athletic department to no longer have sport-related social media groups unless a coach or member of the athletics staff is involved.

Schmidt said he, along with Schumacher, were made aware of the posts the day they gained traction on Twitter.

“I was actually in a meeting with a regent who was visiting and I had a phone call during that meeting from Dan Schumacher, who was contacted by the head football coach (Wesley Beschorner) when these messages first appeared on social media,” Schmidt said. “That was the first that any of us knew of those comments.”

UW-Eau Claire has completed an investigation into the incident but is not releasing the identity of the players or the severity of sanctions, citing the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Schmidt said he could also not comment on whether the players involved will remain on the football team going forward or if any had appealed sanctions levied against them.

“It’s very frustrating for me that we are not able to have total transparency of the investigation, the outcomes of the investigation, the sanctions,” Schmidt said. “I did seek legal counsel in hope that we could push the line a little bit. Not surprisingly, this law has been in existence for more than two decades and institutions have never been given any real latitude.”

The Snapchat messages marked the second racist incident on UW-Eau Claire’s campus this school year. A racial slur was written on a dorm door of Kayde Langer, a Red Lake Ojibwe student, in September.

University officials have previously cited athletics as a way to increase diversity on campus. It was recently one of Schmidt’s main talking points when UW-Eau Claire announced the addition of men’s soccer on Oct. 28, with the chancellor noting an opportunity to increase Latino and Hmong representation.

Having an incident of this magnitude then come from the athletic department added to the frustration and pain it caused, Schmidt said, though he cautioned projecting the comments of the five players involved onto the rest of the team or athletic department.

If there are wider systemic issues, the hope is they will be discovered and fixed through the investigation.

“I think this will be a learning experience,” Schumacher said. “It’s going to be a positive outcome.”

The UW-Eau Claire football team, which completed a 3-7 season on Nov. 16, is under the direction of Beschorner, a first-year and first-time head coach. He has not spoken publicly since the posts were released following the season finale.

“There’s a little empathy because he’s a first-time head coach, but he’s a strong leader and knows this is a serious situation,” Schumacher said. “It is on his watch and he’s taking this very seriously, as is the whole coaching staff.”