EAU CLAIRE, WIs. (FOX 9) - University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire chancellor's says a post in a group chat later shared with university officials shows a picture of an old photo of a Klu Klux Klan gathering with a comment targeting a black student group.
The chancellor says the Snapchat group chat included five university football players. Pictures of the conversation circulating online shows the text “for all of those who can’t make it to the BME meeting tonight, [name] and I are holding a WME tonight at 7.”
“BME” refers to Black Male Empowerment, a student group on campus focused on helping black men prepare for the professional world. “WME” suggests White Male Empowerment. After the text the player sent an old photo of a KKK meeting where a cross is burning.
The photo shows other players chiming in. One naming another player as the “grand wizard” another saying “I’ll be there but I’ll be like 5 mins late. Think the cross will still be burning? I don’t wanna miss that again,” and “That pic is from last weeks meeting.”
“I’m disgusted I’m horrified and I’m disappointed and I’m angry,” Chancellor James Schmidt said. “I can think of very few things that are as a burning cross in a Klu Klucks Klan gathering.”
Chancellor Schmidt says the post was brought to his attention late Tuesday afternoon. He said the university’s athletic department took immediate action and suspended the five players involved and starting an investigation with the Dean of Students.
“Those students not only abide by university code of conduct but they are representatives of the university. They put on our uniform so they are held to a higher standard,” Chancellor Schmidt said.
According to the president of Black Male Empowerment, many of the members of the group are also members of the football team. He said he wasn’t surprised when he heard about the comments made in the group chat.
“We’ve had those experiences with those student athletes,” BME President Lewis Balom said. “We’ve experienced that stuff before in the locker room, like verbally; it’s just never been broadcasted or hard evidence like we have now.”
On Tuesday night BME posted about the incident on their Facebook page.
Balom said whatever happens next with these student athletes is up to school administrators. He says he hopes they are held accountable and that those administrators understand their decision will impact how the next generation of students view campus culture.
“We just desire for justice. Just true equality,” Balom said.
Chancellor Schmidt says UW Eau Claire strives to create a campus environment that is welcoming to all students. He said one of the university’s missions is to increase enrollment of students of color.
“This campus has put a great deal of energy into becoming a more welcoming institution. We’re still a predominately white institution we have a long, long way to go as does every campus in this country,” Chancellor Schmidt said.
The five students suspended from the football team are now part of a Dean of Students investigation. Chancellor Schmidt says he doesn’t expect that investigation to take very long. Further disciplinary action will be based on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents guidelines.
The chancellor posted an official statement on UW Eau Claire’s Facebook page: