UW-Eau Claire students respond to racist Snapchat messages

Members of OMA, ASA, Student Senate and other students respond to incident

Lea Kopke

More stories from Lea Kopke


Photo by Taylor Wilkinson

Students gathered outside Schofield on Monday following an organized classroom walk-out in order to protest the racist Snapchat conversation.

After a racist Snapchat conversation surfaced on Nov. 19, UW-Eau Claire students and several student organizations joined together to plan a discussion night, compile a list of requests to Chancellor James Schmidt and planned the protest for Monday.

The day after the racist conversation emerged, the Office of Multicultural Affairs announced the event, “Deconstructing Racism,” which invited students of color to “deconstruct racism at UWEC and to develop a list of demands and concerns they would like to convey to higher administration,” according to a Facebook post by OMA.

Dang Yang, the director of OMA, said the event, which was held on Nov. 21, was organized into two main components: providing students an opportunity to say what was on their minds and allowing students to identify what specific next steps they wanted UW-Eau Claire to consider.

“This is really part of a healing process,” Yang said. “Just simply to allow them to discuss ideas and thoughts that either they’ve had pent up or to articulate things and find language and put language to feelings that they’ve had throughout this process.”

Yang said through the event OMA gathered 177 different comments from approximately 160 individuals. OMA compiled the statements into a cover letter that included eight specific requests, which represented the participating students’ wants — not the organizations’ wants. The letter was sent to Schmidt and posted publicly on the OMA Facebook page.

The first point on the list of requests was “students want justice and accountability.” 

The letter went on to list eight themes that included exploring expulsion for the student perpetrators, UW-Eau Claire adding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training as a mandatory part of any series of sanctions or as a course required by the university and more transparency in communication between the university and students — especially regarding BIRT reports.

“While the themes do not completely encapsulate all of those comments,” Yang said, “It certainly is a starting point to articulate where they were at that particular point and what they want to communicate at that particular point.”

Erika Nguyen, a fourth-year psychology student and a member of OMA, said when the racial incident first came to light, she wrote a long, detailed email to the chancellor, dean of students and the assistant dean of students. 

Nguyen said she agreed with the majority of students who said they wanted the students involved to issue apology statements, but also said she advocated for EDI courses to be implemented into the UW-Eau Claire curriculum as a more long-term solution.

“I think that there should be a course for all students to take from the moment they become a student on campus to when they graduate,” Nguyen said. “I also think if we were to have this course, it would be great to make sure that students go to cultural events on campus and not only just go to that, but also give presentations to show that they were present and that they were learning from this experience.”

The issue with racism on campus is larger than just this incident, she said. 

Nguyen said one of the representatives at the “Deconstructing Racism” event said the Bias Incident Response Team has experienced more than double the amount of reports in this semester as there was in total last academic year.

“I don’t think many students are aware of the amount of racism on this campus,” Nguyen said. “For me, as a student of color, when I saw these messages — to be honest — I wasn’t surprised, just because I face this basically every day on this campus. I face more here than I have anywhere else.”

Sophia Flood Elyafi, a fourth-year pre-medical and Spanish student and vice president of the African Student Association, is one of the administrators of the Facebook group, “UWEC Solidarity with People of Color on Campus.” 

The group is intended to provide “a place for community members, faculty, staff, and students to discuss, stand in solidarity, and take action regarding issues of racism on campus,” according to its page description.

“The purpose of the page is to keep everybody informed on what is going on,” Flood Elyafi said, “and also to take civil action against what is going on since the administration has not made a decision or stood by their policies.”

The group, created on Nov. 20, has already amassed over 1,000 members. A Facebook post inviting both UW-Eau Claire and off-campus organization leaders into an informative group chat received comments from representatives of about 40 campus organizations and over a dozen off-campus organizations. Flood Elyafi said the group also includes two state senators and members of the Eau Claire City Council.

Flood Elyafi said, because the initial racist incident indicated an attack on Black Male Empowerment, the ASA has responded by showing their support for that group and backing them up in the steps they are taking. She said the two groups really started to come together after the “Deconstructing Racism” forum.

“The bizarre thing is that this is like the first time we’ve all come together,” Flood Elyafi said, “and so just kind of encouraging things like this, like forums and discussions for us to come together outside of the fact something happening to a group on campus or a group being targeted.”

She said BME and ASA also discussed their disappointment in the lack of communication between the BIRT team and Kayde Langer, a student whose door was vandalized with racist graffiti last September.

Charlie Johnson, the student body president of Student Senate, published a letter of condemnation last Friday regarding the racist incident allegedly involving members of the UW-Eau Claire football team. 

In the letter, Johnson said Student Senate condemned the messages and expects to see the proper measures taken to address the situation.

“I am horrified to see such words of hate be directed towards members of the Blugold community,” Johnson wrote. “At the core of this University is the goal of fostering in one another ‘creativity, critical insight, empathy, and intellectual courage.’ The actions of these individuals are the antithesis of this mission and have no place on this campus or within our community.”

Student Senate priorities, he said, include advocating for the creation of safe spaces for individuals from marginalized identities and mandatory EDI training for all students. 

According to the Student Senate Facebook page, they will be introducing legislation “63-R-18 – In Condemnation of Racist Discourse Among Select Members of The Blugold Football Team” and “63-R-19 – In Support of Improving Resources for Students of Marginalized Identities.”

The Student Senate met on Monday at 6 p.m. in the Dakota Ballroom in Davies Center.

More updates to follow.

Kopke can be reached at [email protected].