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‘The American’ radio show raises discussion of free speech on campus

A radio DJ on KOUG Radio has been raising concerns about free speech on campus that have sparked a conversation about First Amendment rights and students’ expression of them. Rich Wilson is host of ‘The American,’ a show on KOUG. Wilson is a senior studying biology, and has served in the United States Air Force as well as worked as a firefighter in the past.

The American Radio Show is designed, according to Wilson, to provide an open invitation to all students of any political viewpoint to discuss political issues. Wilson started the show “to prove that free speech is okay.” Wilson created the radio show out of concerns that free speech was being compromised on campus, by a culture of “groupthink.”

According to Wilson, students are not free to share their views, especially when these are in opposition to the majority opinions on campus. Wilson has expressed political views that have been offensive to some students on campus, and says that he and his radio show have been harassed because of it.

Wilson said that campus administration has attempted to limit what he can post on his show’s Facebook page, in violation of his First Amendment rights. Additionally, Wilson noted that many of his flyers on public message boards have been covered, defaced or removed on multiple occasions.

After the instances of harassment, Wilson brought his concerns to campus administrators, primarily to find out what WSU Vancouver could do to protect the rights students who post information on message boards. Wilson said that the current rules surrounding the message boards do not make it clear that any views that are within legality can be posted, regardless of message. After several weeks without a response from campus administrators, he finally discussed his concerns in person with the director of facilities operations.

According to Wilson, he has been in contact with campus administrators to create new notices of the rules for public message boards that clearly state that free speech is protected by the boards. As of the printing of this article, Wilson is still pushing to have the notices created.

Wilson is aware of the concerns and complaints that his show has garnered. He emphasized that while his topics and views may be controversial, they are not illegal. Some concerns, however, have been raised, as others view his opinions as potentially offensive or harmful to the campus community.

Bola Majekobaje, assistant director for student diversity, works in the Diversity Center and reflected the concerns of some on campus. “I get concerned when individuals feel the need to promote hate and division on campus,” Majekobaje said. She further said that “comments like these can make students and others feel unwelcome and unsafe.”

Majekobaje however emphasized that “free speech and diversity need not be talked about as an either/or.” According to Majekobaje, First Amendment protections have been instrumental in fostering civil rights and social justice.

In response to allegations of fostering division, Wilson said, “I have never promoted hate in any way. I promote unity through free speech.” Wilson said disagreeing on one topic does not mean that a consensus on other topics cannot be reached. “I wish we could come together on one issue, despite other topics we may differ on,” Wilson said.

Wilson hopes to promote a supportive view of the First Amendment, stating that the best thing students can do when faced with differing opinions is to “just talk.” He said that students should, “stop assuming that there’s going to be some hurt from it.” Wilson said students must be able to freely share their own ideas, but also listen to other people’s ideas. “That’s not the culture,” Wilson said.

From Wilson’s perspective, students are not prepared to engage in respectful dialogue about divisive issues. He said students need not agree on issues, but that they are prepared and able to discuss issues freely regardless of opinion. Essential to this is that individuals must “listen as equally as they want to share.” Wilson said, “WSU must create, defend and by example show that open communications are beneficial in every way.”

Wilson hopes that the dialogue his show has created can help foster needed discussion among campus staff and students about how legal, respectful free speech can be protected and exercised. He said that in the past protecting free speech on campus “has not been a priority,” but that it can change if the culture of groupthink can be changed as well.

Majekobaje notes that the Student Diversity Center “will continue to be a space that promotes equity in an effort to build a welcoming community for all students on campus.” She hopes that students will recognize that free speech issues do not need to be framed in opposition to diversity issues, and that often these two can work together for a greater purpose.

The American Radio Show broadcasts every Friday on KOUG from 7:30 – 9 a.m. It can be found on Facebook at The American Radio Show Facebook page. Majekobaje can be reached for more information at majekoba@vancouver.wsu.edu.

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