UW-Eau Claire’s student body president on Friday said racist social media messages connected to athletes’ suspension from the university’s football team were “directly inciting violence through racist discourse.”
Five student athletes were suspended from the team this week after group chat messages showed comments targeting the campus’ Black Male Empowerment group, including a picture of the Ku Klux Klan and a burning wooden cross.
The university opened an investigation into the incident Wednesday.
“Imitating the rituals of one of the most prominent hate groups in the United States goes far beyond a simple joke or locker-room humor,” wrote student body president Charlie Johnson in a statement released Friday. “This only acts as a flotation device for systematic acts of oppression against individuals of marginalized identities.”
University officials have declined to name the athletes who were suspended. Assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations Mike Rindo said the university cannot identify them because the investigation is ongoing.
UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt condemned the messages, saying Thursday he expects to give an update on the investigation by the Dean of Students’ office before Thanksgiving break begins Wednesday.
The messages include references to a nonexistent White Male Empowerment group, with a similar acronym to that of the campus’ BME 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.
Johnson said in the statement the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate will address “current campus culture” and explore progressive change.
In addition to suspension from the football team, Schmidt said “additional, appropriate sanctions may result, pending the outcomes of the investigation.”