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Image spurs concerns about race at UW-Whitewater

Senator calls administration's actions 'racial overreaction'

WHITEWATER, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater chancellor said an image that initially prompted concerns about race relations on campus appears to have been a misunderstanding.

Beverly Kopper verified to News 3 that her statement issued Thursday morning about a racist image on social media was connected to a photo of two students who some thought were wearing blackface paint. In the statement, she called the image "hurtful and destructive to our campus community."

Kopper later said the students said they just had a facial and took a picture. She said the students did not mean for it to be harmful and did not know the implications. 

In the initial statement, Kopper said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Tom Rios has formed a group that has already begun meeting with students, researching these issues, and working on the development of an action plan for moving forward. She said the group will meet next week to discuss an event that will allow the campus "to capture the student voice and develop a collective response to these issues."

"Some of our multicultural and nontraditional students feel the environment on campus is not welcoming to all," Kopper wrote. "Over and over, the students in attendance expressed their need to be heard and for campus to do more than just talk."

Students said the image and statements from administrators brings attention to a much large issue. Students said there have been other incidents of racist slurs on campus.

"There's policy for everything else on campus except for racial injustice, not just for the Black people, but for all minorities," UW-Whitewater senior Reginald Kirby said.

"Young ladies using Snap Chat to say the n-word multiple times mockingly, or you have someone who still has not been identified write the n-word on a Black student's page," Black Student Union President Radaya Ellis said.

The university's student government is using the #USGcares to highlight any concerns a student has on campus. Still, students said more needs to be done to make sure everyone feels accepted.

"I think they should be educated on the topic," Kirby said.

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, issued a statement Thursday and called the administration's actions against the students a "racial overreaction."

"The students shared a picture on social media showing them with the facial product on their faces and the material just happened to be black in color. The posting contained no racist statement and the students are simply standing in the picture," Nass said in the statement.

Nass said the university did not fully review the picture and its context before issuing a racially charged statement.

"The official statement misled students, parents and the public by confirming that a racist event had occurred, even though it really hadn't," Nass said.

After hearing the explanation, Kopper said the students who took the picture will not be disciplined.

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