UW-Eau Claire sanctions students in racist incident

    UW-Eau Claire-Schofield Hall
    The exterior of Schofield Hall, the administration building at the UW-Eau Claire. Photo courtesy of UW-Eau Claire.

    Disciplinary sanctions have been levied against students involved in racist Snapchat postings at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire last month, the university announced Friday, but officials withheld details citing federal student privacy laws and the advice of the UW system’s general counsel’s office.

    “In the spirit of transparency, I asked the general counsel to determine what information about the nature of these sanctions could be shared publicly under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” Chancellor James C. Schmidt said in a message to the university’s students, faculty and staff. “Their analysis and resulting legal guidance determined that the university is unable to share further details.”

    The message included a link to the general counsel’s advice letter to Schmidt.

    Schmidt said the students were told about their sanctions Friday and could appeal the sanctions, which in that case would be reviewed by a special hearing committee.

    The university distributed a copy of Schmidt’s communication on the campus to news media and said there would be no further comment on the matter.

    Five football players were suspended from the team after a thread of Snapchat messages became public that mocked an African-American student group, Black Male Empowerment, and included photographs of a Ku Klux Klan cross burning. The messages had originally been shared among a group of players.

    After the incident was publicized the campus held gatherings to discuss the experiences of students of color on the campus, including the presentation of a list of demands to Schmidt about appropriate sanctions for those involved and also about what the university should do to encourage support for diversity and inclusion and combat discrimination and racism on campus.

    In an interview with the Wisconsin Examiner just before Thanksgiving, Schmidt expressed support for students who had participated in peaceful demonstrations to protest the racist messages.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.