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Racist note telling Native American student to ‘go back to the rez’ prompts university investigation

Kayde Langer, who identifies as a Red Lake Ojibwe, found a racist note left on her college dormitory door. (Credit: Wisconsin Public Radio/Twitter)

On the morning of Sept. 15, a Native American University of Wisconsin Eau Claire (UW Eau Claire) student woke up to discover a racist note taped to her dormitory door.

The note written on a paper cut out of an avocado told junior Kayde Langer to “go back to the rez red n****,” using a racial slur directed towards Native Americans.

“COLLEGE CAMPUSES SHOULD NOT BE SAFE SPACES FOR RACISM,” reads a tweet from Langer, according to reports from local news station WQOW.

After a tweet with a picture of the note and her response to the hateful message went viral on Twitter, a UW Eau Claire official condemned any form of hate speech on the university’s campus.

“There is no place for hate speech @UWEauClaire. The racist who wrote this despicable comment is not welcome on this campus,” UW Eau Claire’s Chancellor, James Schmidt, tweeted Sept. 15 with a link to Kayde’s original tweet. “I ask all #Blugolds to join me in supporting one another in condemning all forms of hatred.”

Although university officials promptly responded to this particular incident, Langer says this isn’t the first time that she’s reported incidents of racial discrimination to university officials.

Langer, who identifies as a Red Lake Ojibwe on her Twitter account, told local news station WQOW that she faced discrimination for “smudging,” a Native American tradition of burning sacred herbs.

“Last year I had girls harass me. They had to have RAs guard my door when I was [smudging],” Langer told WQOW. While Langer plans to submit a formal bias racist incident report, she was initially doubtful of getting any results after her previous complaints went unaddressed by the university.

“In the past, I've had other incidents, and administration a lot of the time ignores us,” Langer told the college’s student publication, The Daily Cardinal. “I've been ignored multiple times, and there's no consequences to being racist.”

Langer serves as the vice president of UW Eau Claire’s Inter-Tribal Student Council. According to the council’s advisor, Heather Ann Moody, PhD, the Inter-Tribal Student Council will be holding a student panel called "Dare to Join Us: Addressing Racism in OUR Community," and will hold a peaceful demonstration on Sept. 30 in response to the racism directed towards indigenous people on campus.

Tressa Lange, the president of the Inter-Tribal Student Council, says that it makes her “heart heavy” to know that this is not an isolated incident. According to Lange, racism towards indigenous people is prevalent across all UW campuses.

“As an Indigenous student on the number one predominately white campus in the UW- System, I along with others, find this action completely unacceptable,” Lange tells Yahoo Lifestyle in an email.

“Indigenous students are often silenced and invisible in an institutional setting; education systems were not meant for Indigenous students to begin with, but I can promise you we will not be silenced and we will do everything in our power to bring change and justice to our campus."

After Langer’s tweet garnered a lot of attention online, Schmidt asked the college’s Bias Incident Response Team to launch a formal investigation into the incident to find the person behind the note left on Langer’s door. Although the university police are also working to gather information, Mike Rindo, the assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that there are no security cameras in student living areas due to privacy concerns, which means there “may be no way to definitively determine who was responsible.”

Schmidt also sent out a statement to the student body asking students to submit any anonymous information they may have on the culprit.

“This kind of racist slur is simply antithetical to who we are as a university that values equity, diversity, and inclusion,” reads a statement from Schmidt obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle.

He adds, “When a member of our Blugold Family is targeted, we are all impacted and called to speak with one voice against bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance. This campus must act when hatred rears its ugly head.”

While Langer has been unsatisfied with the UW Eau Claire’s lack of response to her previous complaints, she appears hopeful that there will finally be an open dialogue to address racism on UW’s campuses. Numerous students and community members have condemned the note online and have called for action to be taken against the student who wrote the note.

According to Rindo, the UW Eau Claire’s Board of Regents’ policies prohibit discriminatory harassment. If found, the university would “consider all options along the disciplinary continuum up to and including expulsion.”

“I’m not glad it happened, but I appreciate the fact that it’s getting attention because many times we’ve been ignored,” Langer told WQOW. “Like so many times, I’ve been ignored and other students of color have been ignored on these issues and now we’re actually finally having an open dialogue.”

Kayde Langer did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s interview request.

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