UWEC Hmong students respond to racist "problems" sign

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this note that was posted in a dorm bathrooom stall by someone who obviously had some "problems" with her Hmong floor-mates at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

I recently heard from he resident assistant on the floor where the sign was posted. After waiting a month to see whether and how school officials would react, she and her peers decided to write a public statement to the university administration and the greater UWEC community.

Here's the letter:

December 17, 2012
Dear UWEC administrators, students, faculty, staff, and the community at large:
As a group of concerned and directly-affected student leaders, we, the undersigned, want to address a recent incident here at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. We would like to share our interpretations of the incident and its aftermath, as well as our concerns and hopes for moving forward.

On November 20, 2012, two days before Thanksgiving Break, four 8.5x11 posters were found in the last stall of the female bathroom on eighth floor of Towers North; one poster (attached) discusses the “problems” with the floor, and on the subsequent posters were written comments from several contributors containing profanity. Once the signs were discovered, they were taken down, and the Hall Director contacted the campus police immediately. The resident assistants of the floor were instructed by the Hall Director to call a mandatory floor meeting for the following Monday, November 26, 2012. Many Hmong American residents continue to feel unsafe even after initial institutional responses to the incident.

After the incident attracted a lot of media attention, the University responded with an email in which the incident was described in terms of “culturally insensitive language.” This email, and other responses and dialogues concerning this incident, have shown a great support for diversity and a strong commitment to respect for pluralism. These gestures have been highly appreciated. Nonetheless, we noted the rhetoric and diction that has been used to address this incident has also undermined an adequate understanding of it. If we continue to emphasize culture or cultural differences, we will fail to discuss the origins of this incident; we need to acknowledge, not circumvent, the root cause: racism.

While we want to highlight the significance of this incident, we also want to point out that this incident is but one of many recurring racist incidents on our campus. The most important thing to understand is that this incident, and others like it, belongs to a pattern of behavior. This creates a campus climate that is neither welcoming nor safe for all students of color. As a university, we need to realize the larger implications of this residence hall incident.

The writing of these posters is not what is problematic; it is the racist ideologies and practices that were present in the posters that we need to address. We need to think critically about where these ideas have stemmed from. We must recognize the institutional contributions to the problem so that we can correct it.

Although the University’s formal response indicated that numerous committees have taken action, students have not been informed of any plan of action. We acknowledge the attempts from the administration to engage in dialogue with concerned students, whether coming from the Housing and Residence Life staff or administrators and faculty from other areas of the university. However, in order to move forward, we must realize more must be done, beyond having multiple meetings on how to make Hmong American students feel safe and welcomed. We must move beyond surface-level solutions to the problem. Hmong students need to be involved in the planning process of anything that will be done in their name, and Hmong students should be credited for their contribution to the solution.

We understand that there are no quick fixes to racism, but we remain hopeful in the quest for positive institutional change. We look forward to further discussion with the Chancellor and other administrators to move towards a productive future for our university.


Choua Xiong, President Hmong Student Association

Mai Neng Vang, Resident Assistant Hmong Culture Living Learning Community

Xeeyee Kha, Resident Assistant Hmong Culture Living Learning Community

Ong Xiong, Student Representative Hmong Studies Initiative

One Yang, Youth Coordinator Hmong Mutual Assistance Association

Becky Vang, Resident
Hmong Culture Living Learning Community
Can't say I'm surprised that the university officially dismissed the incident as a "culturally insensitive language incident." I'm just spreading the word about the student response, and I hope its distribution and further action pressures the administration to address the environment that gives way to incidents like this in the first place. Solidarity.

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