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UW-Eau Claire media memo: Culturally insensitive language incident

November 30, 2012

TO: News editors and directors

FROM: Mike Rindo, Assistant Chancellor for University Relations

DATE: Nov. 30, 2012

SUBJECT: Culturally insensitive language incident

The following email message has been sent to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students, faculty and staff from Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet regarding a recent incident in Towers residence hall:

Dear UW-Eau Claire Students, Faculty and Staff,

As some members of our campus community are already aware, an incident occurred in the days before Thanksgiving in Towers North residence hall that involved culturally insensitive language directed toward students in our Hmong living-learning community. The initial posting of this anonymous, inappropriate messaging in a bathroom stall led to the exchange of additional, increasingly insensitive written messages, also posted in the stall.

An incident like this is in direct opposition to the values of equity, diversity and inclusiveness we hold as a university. We recognize diversity as one of our highest priorities, and we strive to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment, along with a curriculum that broadens and deepens our students' educational experience. Our various living-learning communities are examples of programming intended to provide that deeper learning experience.

We have taken immediate actions since residence life and student affairs staff were notified of the Towers Hall incident, and we continue working to improve our efforts to create an increasingly inclusive university community. Immediately following the Thanksgiving break, a meeting for all residents of the Towers Hall floor where this incident occurred was organized by our residence life team. The intent of this meeting was to serve as a first step in a process to address the incident. Since then, discussions have occurred among students; our Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Fellows; members of our Chancellor's Diversity Advisory Commission; our Office of Multicultural Affairs staff; and others.

A meeting of our Bias Incident Response Team also is scheduled for Monday to determine steps it will take going forward. In addition, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to use the university's Bias/Hate Incident Reporting Form to bring incidents to the attention of our Bias Incident Response Team.

Meanwhile, I encourage members of our university community to voice concerns openly and in ways that are not hurtful to others. Housing and Residence Life, Counseling Services, University Police, Affirmative Action, and other staff are available and trained to effectively respond to complaints or reports of inappropriate behavior.

I am disappointed by the occurrence of this disturbing incident, as well as by the feeling among some students that they are living in a hostile environment in their residence hall. This situation is a reminder that our university community is a microcosm of our greater society — with all its systemic cultural and ethnic tensions. It also is a reminder that we have important work to do to continue building among our campus community a sense of understanding and respect for all cultures.

Please know that I welcome your insights as we learn from this experience and reaffirm our commitment to preparing our students to be ethical participants in our pluralistic world.

Gilles Bousquet

Interim Chancellor, UW-Eau Claire

For more information, contact Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for university relations, at 715-836-4742 or rindomj@uwec.edu.

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