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Controversy arising between debate coach and student

Ryan Wash  (1 of 1).jpg
Instructor Ryan Wash. (Weber State University)

Weber State University Student Michael Moreno uploaded 43 minutes of selective content about Debate Coach Ryan Wash onto YouTube on Oct. 26. The video described Moreno’s concerns with the debate prep and curriculum that Wash had been presenting to his team.

This video’s — the first of three — content was selected by Moreno from his reported 12 hours of audio he had obtained, recording class discussions without the knowledge of other students or the professor. The audio was once available on his original Dropbox link in the description of the video, but is no longer available. In addition to the audio, research files — including some of the debaters’ names — were shared.

Moreno has denied taking it down and stated that Dropbox does not support the amount of people who were attempting to download the audio and files.

Two days later, Moreno uploaded a second video, this one approximately 14 minutes in length. The upload included footage of several debate students and Wash, not just audio. This was obtained without consent of those in the room.

The two videos have a combined viewership of over 500,000 views in total.

On Oct. 31, student group The Never Neutral Union announced that they were forming in response to Moreno’s video. They announced themselves by emailing their statement to university officials, deans and the WSU Police Department.

In their statement, they stated that Moreno had misconstrued the debate team as “‘anti-white’ and ‘racist,’ specifically targeting Director Wash as a bad professor and coach.”

The statement goes on to say that the YouTube comments have “suggested Ryan get a lobotomy, be assaulted and physically removed from campus. There have been death threats against Director Wash. We are afraid for our safety.”

The group stated there was no action on the part of the university for safety measures for debate students and Wash beyond an increased police presence. Through the statement, the group asked for the expulsion of Moreno from WSU for breaking the Student Code of Conduct.

On Nov. 1, a statement from WSU President Brad Mortensen was released, stating “As an institution of higher education, we owe it to all members of campus to take a deliberate approach to issues like this and do our best to learn all the details involved. Regardless of one’s personal views on the subject, no one benefits from a hastily reached conclusion.”

Mortensen continues that some of the campus community “have received emails and voicemail messages that have been construed as discriminatory, harassing or threatening” and to visit Safe@Weber for resources for personal safety.

On Nov. 2, Moreno released a third video, addressing the university’s statement.

Since the videos’ releases, some debate students have been escorted to their 6 a.m. debate practices.

Although these events have unfolded in the past week, Moreno said these recordings were taken between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5.

Before this, Moreno had taken these recordings to Communication Department Chair Sheree Josephson who directed him to the Affirmative Action Office.

“Barry Gomberg, the Director of (the Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Office) said he was going on a trip to South Africa. I said, ‘no, I’m not waiting any longer,’” Moreno said. “I was planning to expose this. That’s why I recorded it. I waited to see if the school would do anything.”

Moreno stated he has not received threats beyond YouTube comments from users who have disagreed with his stance. He has felt his academic career is at risk.

“I don’t know what the university is going to do. They hinted at possibly disciplining me in the statement they released,” Moreno said. “My academic career in the debate world, I mean, that’s been in jeopardy since I released the Arizona debate round nine months ago.”

Nine months ago, when Moreno was debating in high school, he released a video of a round at the Arizona State University High School Speech and Debate Tournament. In this tournament, Moreno was stopped during his argument because, according to the judge, his sources and point of view were racist.

The video released was of minors and resulted in the doxxing — the publishing of private or identifying information about individuals on the internet — of minors and their families.

After the speech and debate tournament video was published, and the additional follow up videos in response to the incident were released, Moreno has been iced out of the debate community.

Currently, WSU students on the debate team and Wash are being doxxed, a result of Moreno’s videos.

Crystal Legionaires is an alum who works with the debate teams whose address was doxxed earlier this week. Legionaires talked to the individual who originally posted the addresses of her and other debaters, and it has since been taken down.

The doxxing was exposed after the individual accidentally tagged Rei Olsen, another member of the WSU debate team. There may be more doxxing happening that Legionaires and Olsen have not seen about other members of the team.

Despite the doxxing, Legionaires and Olsen were steadfast in their support for Wash.

“There were a couple instances in the video where Michael represents Ryan’s arguments as being his beliefs when he is identifying that these are arguments people might use in debates. First is the ‘space is not real argument,’” Legionaires said. “Ryan is not saying that space is not real. Rather he actually says in that discussion, according to Rei and others in that discussion, ‘so my friends this argument is ridiculous; I think it’s kind of fun.’”

Wash discusses pushing his students and asking them questions from various positions to demonstrate what a cross examination may feel like for the student.

“What I don’t want is for one of my students to have their subject positions put on the line with people who honestly don’t care about them at all and have not have any experience doing so,” Wash said. “So i question my students to prepare them on how to answer the best versions of some arguments. In my mind, that’s my job as the coach and prepare them for the best versions of these arguments.

Both Olsen and Legionaires continue to describe the idea behind the argument, talking about what it can mean for the black community to trust white people as the sole arbiters of science when there have been racist and harmful experiments done to black people in the name of science.

“One of the things that I’ve been trying to teach these students and something that they have to know when dealing with debate or people in the world is that perspective matters,” Wash said. “People’s experiences and cultures guide the way they view the world. You have to sit your opinions aside, literally slice a port of your existence and table that for the sake of having the debate.”

Legionaires then turns to the topic of how an argument is selected to go into a debate round and that only complete and evidence-supported arguments go through into the debate rounds.

“You can run any type of argument, you just have to make sure you’re running it well. There’s a standard,” Legionaires said. “If you’re on the football team and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, they’re going to say ‘What’s going on?’ We have a standard for what is necessary for our team. If you are going to cut that, then we’re going to put you on a different string. Ryan, as a coach, is the arbiter of making sure those standards are upheld.”

Not every proposed debate argument makes it into the final cut to move to the actual debate competition. Arguments are cut and refined into the best debate possible. Wash stated that no debates brought over the summer made it into the plans for the rounds.

“Michael had pestered Ryan about the argument for over a week, asking him the same questions. Ryan said, ‘No, I have given you the standards of the team. If you don’t meet the standards we can’t work with that. I don’t think you understand that this argument is fundamentally broken, that it’s not going to work,’ Legionaires said. “Ryan is a person. Sometimes he gets frustrated. Even when he’s in a classroom setting where people are asking him questions that are offensive or problematic.”

WSU’s statement was disappointing to Wash, Legionaires and Olsen.

“Weber has an opportunity to protect its faculty in terms of academic freedom. They knew exactly what kind of coach I was. They knew exactly who I was as a coach,” Wash said. “We have less than one percent African-American faculty and staff here at this university, and, that, I think says a lot in regards to this very conversation. If WSU has any kind of desire to preserve their values of access learning and community, then they must be willing to accept those who exist on the fringes of those in that community who feel excluded almost 365 days out of the year, right here. It doesn’t take us a YouTube video to see that in regards to a student.”

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