The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

UWEC students protest UW System, Vos deal

Students “disappointed and ashamed” by Board of Regents decision to restructure DEI positions and programs
Photo by Toby Mohr
Students, faculty and community members held signs and spoke in front of Centennial Hall.

Editor’s note: The terms diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are used interchangeably by sources quoted in this story.

UW-Eau Claire students and employees took to Lower Campus to protest after the UW System Board of Regents approved the deal to release system pay raises and restructure diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions and programs on campuses. 

The deal includes a hiring freeze through December 2026, realigning a third of DEI positions in the UW System to roles with “a primary focus on academic and student success,” eliminating diversity statement requirements in admissions applications and ending UW-Madison’s Target of Opportunity Program.

The Board of Regents had narrowly rejected the deal 8-9 in a special meeting Saturday, Dec. 9 before reversing their decision Wednesday night with a vote of 11-6. According to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Regents Karen Walsh, Amy Bogost and Jennifer Staton flipped their votes.

Regents and UW System leaders were criticized for their lack of transparency and inclusion with the deal.

The UW-Eau Claire chapter of the College Democrats organized the protest and students and employees against the deal attended, as well as counterprotesters in support of the deal.

One sign reads, “Equity, diversity and inclusion is necessary for our success.” (Photo by Toby Mohr)

Matthew Lehner, president of UW-Eau Claire College Democrats and a student senator, criticized the decision to exclude student and employee input.

“I was extremely disappointed and ashamed that the UW System didn’t include any of us in the decision-making process at all,” Lehner said. “This deal was announced at the eleventh hour. It was all done in the back room.”

Lehner, student Emma Velazquez and two professors took turns addressing the crowd before Lehner led the protesters in chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, DEI is not for sale,” and “Whose system? Our system.”

Velazquez is the senate director of the Equity in Student Matters Commission, which aims to provide resources and promote change for marginalized students on campus, according to the Student Senate website.

“Our chancellor and his executive staff need to make a statement ASAP,” Velazquez said. “More than just the usual ‘we are not going to waver in our efforts towards EDI.’ There needs to be more. There needs to be a plan of action. There needs to be words that are said that combat the horrendous things that have been said in the legislature.”

Silviana Amethyst is a mathematics professor and the vice president of United Faculty and Academic Staff of UW-Eau Claire. Amethyst received the Excellence in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2023 and the P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People in 2019.

“The real cancer is inequity, homogeneity and exclusion,” Silviana Amethyst said. Photo by Toby Mohr

“I feel like I have a big target painted on my back,” Amethyst said. “So even though I’m in the mathematics department, I’m afraid that because I’ve won those awards, now I have EDI associated with me, which I think is a good thing, but now my job is in jeopardy.”

After the Board of Regents approved the deal Wednesday night, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, “I’m glad they approved the compromise tonight despite reported last-minute lobbying by Gov. Evers to scuttle the deal. We finally have turned the corner and gotten real reforms enacted. Republicans know this is just the first step in what will be our continuing efforts to eliminate these cancerous DEI practices on UW campuses.”

Amethyst said she thinks “the real cancer is inequity, homogeneity and exclusion.”

“I just don’t understand who we’re hurting by trying to include historically excluded minorities, queer people, people of color, first generation students,” Amethyst said. “All groups for whom formal and informal barriers have been erected and have existed in institutions of higher education and education in general since the dawn of those systems.”

However, not everyone there was against the decision.

A group of students show their support for the Board of Regents’ decision. (Photo by Toby Mohr)

Tatiana Bobrowicz, student and president of UW-Eau Claire Chapter of the College Republicans, said she and other members of the College Republicans attended the protest to show support for the Board of Regents’ decision.

“We saw the College Dems are here and they’re here to show that they’re against this bill. We want to show the Board of Regents and students and the faculty that that’s not everyone on campus,” Bobrowicz said. “There’s different opinions and we want to show them that we support it. We support the success of students and we support the pay raise of faculty.”

Boborowicz said they had productive conversations with protesters about the role of DEI on campus.

“People have the idea that we’re here to discriminate and that’s not true. We’re here to actually do the opposite. We want to show that your race, your gender, sexuality, do not determine your success on campus,” Boborowicz said. “By reforming these things, that gives professors and faculty more time and money to spend on their students and educating them.”

It’s unclear at this time how DEI positions and programs will change at UW-Eau Claire.

Kasper can be reached at [email protected]

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