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La Crosse County Historical Society museum finds new home on Main Street

The La Crosse County Historical Society museum officially moved out of its Riverside location Thursday morning, but it won’t be without a home for long.

The group plans to move its local history museum to a storefront at 506 Main St., with a goal opening June 1, pending a permit approval from the city.

“I envision the Main Street museum as an opportunity to showcase what we are capable of,” said Peggy Derrick, the historical society’s executive director.

It was announced in November that the Riverside Museum would close at the end of the year after 30 years of operations in its former space. The historical society had been in a long-term agreement with the city to remain in the space rent-free, but officials said they were looking at new opportunities for the building, a former fish hatchery.


The new downtown space, once a variety of different retail stores, has an open plan concept with “great lighting and great public presence,” and the historical society hopes that will help them gain a more localized audience, Derrick said, adding that most of the people who visited the Riverside location were tourists from out of town.

It’s still unknown whether the new space will keep the title “Riverside Museum” or if a new one will be chosen.

Much of what was seen in the Riverside Museum will still be found at the new space, but Derrick hopes they can take a more “holistic approach” to the exhibits, noting that the current pearl button industry exhibit only touches on a brief relationship the area has with mussels in the Mississippi River.

“If you take it in context, it’s a really short period of time,” she said.

From Tribune files: Things That Matter in La Crosse County history

The Historical Society has dealt with a lot of space issues in the past. Its current headquarters is in an old church on West Avenue, which has been cited as inaccessible and unsuitable for showcasing historical artifacts, which has led the group to outsource exhibit space.

But the group still has its eyes set on a bigger, regional space where a true museum and cultural exhibit space could be located. The historical society hopes the Main Street location can be home for a few years while it locks down that permanent space.

“By just taking our toys and going home when Riverside closes,” Derrick said, “that isn’t going to help make our case for a larger museum.”

Photos: National Register of Historic Places in La Crosse County

UW-La Crosse leaders talk strengths, weaknesses of sexual misconduct policies
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A panel including Chancellor Joe Gow and UW-L's Title IX team take questions Wednesday during a forum on Title IX and the Clery Act, organized in response to sexual misconduct allegations on campus.

UW-La Crosse leaders defended the school’s procedure for handling sexual misconduct claims but acknowledged that certain policies could benefit from a closer look during a highly anticipated forum Wednesday.

A panel including Chancellor Joe Gow and members of the university’s Title IX team spent 90 minutes discussing school policies and fielding questions from students.

The forum was, to date, the university’s most complete and candid response to criticism that it botched its initial investigation into Joel Elgin, the now former chair of the school’s art department.

“We know that there’s a lot of awareness, there’s a lot of concern, and there’s a lot of questions,” said Nizam Arain, the Title IX coordinator at UW-L. “This is one of many opportunities … to have those conversations, to receive your feedback, and to use it as a means to make our processes ever better.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse Title IX coordinator Nizam Arain answers questions Wednesday during a forum on the college’s sexual misconduct policies.

The panel addressed many of the concerns that Caycee Bean, a former student who accused Elgin of sexual misconduct, raised in a September Facebook post and at a December press conference.

Bean criticized the university for a lack of communication during its investigation into Elgin and for failing to establish that he was guilty.

UW Shared Services, which conducted a second investigation with additional interviews and evidence, concluded that Bean’s allegations were credible.

Asked Wednesday why the two investigations reached different conclusions, despite consistent statements from Bean, Gow noted the difficulty of establishing guilt when one person’s story is pitted against another’s.

“The initial complaint and what we saw in the (second) report, there’s a lot more,” Gow said. “The fact of the matter is: The original allegation was investigated and couldn’t be corroborated. Then, when it was publicized, that brought many more people forward that our investigators had no way to know who they were. That was very helpful.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Former UW-La Crosse student Caycee Bean asks a question Wednesday during a forum on the university's sexual misconduct policies. Bean made headlines in September when she publicly accused former art department chair Joel Elgin of sexual misconduct.

The panel also underscored UW-L’s efforts to support and frequently communicate with students who have reported misconduct.

Bean has said that she waited several weeks for an update on her case — a breakdown school officials blamed on poor internal communication.

Kara Ostlund, the assistant dean of students, said the Title IX team recently established a goal of updating students who have filed a report at least once a week.

However, she said, investigations will still be slow to unfold.

Title IX flowchart

We want “all parties to feel that we’ve explored all options, turned over every leaf, looked under every rock,” she said. “But that can mean added time to an investigation. That’s unintended, but it’s equally important to make sure that we’re being fair and impartial.”

School leaders also tried to assuage concerns that biases among the Title IX team could undermine the integrity of investigations.

Arain said two investigators are assigned to most cases, so that one person’s biases are neutralized, and that all investigators must complete training meant to help them recognize and overcome any such leanings.

“At every level of administration,” Arain said, “there’s a lot of care taken to make sure that we’re not exempting anyone from accountability, but rather that we’re putting the necessary pieces in place to ensure that (anyone) can be investigated in a credible fashion.”

While the panel touted many existing aspects of UW-L’s investigative procedure, members also admitted that recent events have crystallized the need for change and improvement.

Arain said he is looking to the UW Board of Regents to pass a prohibition on dating relationships between employees and students. (Currently, employees can date any student they do not directly oversee.)

Ingrid Peterson, the school’s violence prevention specialist, praised a suggestion to give incoming students additional training on how to recognize problematic behavior by staff and faculty. (The idea was proposed by senior Kendra Whelan.)

And Gow said the past several months have caused him to question whether every phase of the process needs to be done at the university, by the university.

“By that I mean the investigation, the charging, the hearing, the decision,” Gow said. “There are some things the system is looking at where you would have outside investigators. We used that on the re-opening of the investigation here, and I think that was very effective. It might be better to not have the campus do everything.”

Hmong leaders say Trump deportation plan endangers refugees

Members of Wisconsin’s Hmong community are speaking out after reports that the Trump administration is seeking authority to deport thousands of Hmong residents to Laos.

In late January, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Lao foreign minister Saleumxay Kommasith. In a recently surfaced letter dated Feb. 3, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said the administration “is negotiating with (Laos) to allow for the deportation of longtime Hmong and Lao residents of the United States back to the country of their birth.”

McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, blasted the policy as “a direct attack on my constituents and their family members” and called the proposal “unconscionable.”

The proposal could affect more than 4,500 Hmong and Lao U.S. residents who are not citizens and who have committed crimes or have deportation orders against them. These individuals have mostly been safe from deportation because of a long history of human rights violations against the Hmong by the Communist government of Laos.

“My dad was part of the (Hmong) military in Laos that resisted the Communist Party,” said Zang Vang, a public relations official with the Wisconsin Hmong Association in Madison. “The reason we left the country is we’re considered the enemy.”

“Right now Laos is still a Communist country,” said Long Vue of Appleton. “We had to flee Laos because of being persecuted. And we still have Hmong in Laos still being persecuted today.”

Vue, who is executive director of a statewide coalition of Hmong associations, the Wisconsin United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Association Inc., said deporting Hmong residents would send a message to the world that the U.S. doesn’t value its allies. Hmong fighters first came to the U.S. as refugees in the 1970s after assisting the U.S. in the Vietnam War. And he said Laos is not safe for the Hmong.

“If the plans of the U.S. government is to send (Hmong residents) back, basically they’ll be persecuted, imprisoned or killed,” Vue said.

The number of people who would be eligible for deportation under the proposal would be a small slice of the Hmong population in the U.S. There are about 49,000 Hmong people in Wisconsin and about 300,000 nationwide, according to U.S. Census data, and the majority of them are U.S. citizens.

Vang said many of those who are green card holders — that is, people who are legal permanent residents but not U.S. citizens — are those in their 20s and 30s who came to the U.S. as young children during refugee resettlements in the 1980s and ’90s. They speak English and have few connections to the country of their birth.

“They have no idea of the culture there,” he said. “They will not know how to survive if they’re sent back to Laos.”

Yee Leng Xiong, the director of the Hmong American Center in Wausau, said Hmong and southeast Asian advocacy groups are responding to the reports, even as they are also waiting for more information about the State Department plans. But he said the Hmong community’s response could have implications on the fall presidential election in Wisconsin.

“The Hmong community will come out and vote in this election if that does go through, and they will remember it,” Xiong said.

On Monday evening, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to WPR that the administration is calling on Laos to accept deported U.S. residents, and said that “the U.S. government is funding a reintegration program in Laos for those who need extra assistance.”