A debate director for Weber State University faces death threats and risks losing his job due to the accusations of one of his students. According to the Standard Examiner, the university has launched an investigation surrounding Ryan Wash, the Black debate director, and Michael Moreno, a White student, who accuses him of teaching an anti-white curriculum.
Moreno rails against Wash on his viral YouTube channel, claiming that Wash doesn’t allow students to develop their own argument, but instead forces them to adhere to arguments that he selects or approves. These are usually arguments Moreno says are discriminatory toward white people. His YouTube channel includes videos labeling the professor as “anti-white” and “racist.” Moreno argues that Wash is unfit to teach debate or any other subject and he’s calling for his termination.
“I don’t think that students should be forced with that dilemma of ‘regurgitate radical leftist ideology or don’t get to do debate.’ That’s not fair,” Moreno said. “All students should be able to do debate.”
Despite Moreno’s claims, a few members of the debate team say that certain recordings of Wash are taken out of context. They argue that the videos show Wash preparing the team for competition by asserting potential arguments that they could use or arguments that they can face. Wash also has the same sentiment.
“The larger message and what’s being talked about, especially in that first video, is (that) I was trying to teach them about perspectivism,” Wash said. ”… People’s vantage points, their experiences, their cultures, their social location, guide how they navigate the world, what they understand to be true, what they don’t understand to be true, and those are the things that we… have to navigate in debate.”
Moreno’s YouTube videos contain his own commentary along with edited video and audio clips of Wash, Moreno, and other students at debate practices. Moreno also featured a link to the full audio used to make the video, however, the link to that audio stopped working on Tuesday afternoon.
The recordings feature quotes from Wash that have caused controversy on social media, including one that opens the first video: “Our argument will be that space is not real — it’s not real. Science, technology — it’s all fake. It’s a projection of white fantasies that has worked to control our interpretation of how the world works.”
The clips were made at a debate retreat prior to the start of the semester and at practices early in the semester. Moreno, a first-year student who was still fresh on the team, stopped participating in practices one to two weeks into the fall semester, according to him, although Wash and other team members have slightly different accounts.
Moreno’s peers and Wash say that they had no knowledge that they were being recorded. The fact that Moreno uploaded the recordings to the Internet also made them accessible to other debate teams. The uploaded clips are against Weber State policy, which requires students to “obtain the faculty member’s permission before recording lectures” and prohibits students from creating “an audio or video record of any person while on university premises without his/her prior knowledge,” though it’s not against the law in Utah.
Because of the videos, Wash says that his personal contact info has been shared online, a tactic known as doxxing, and he says that he’s received more than 100 messages containing racial slurs and even death threats. On Tuesday, November 5, Wash received his first threatening call to his cellphone.
“It’s become a really unsafe situation to where we’ve had to take precautions not only to protect me, but protect the students,” Wash said. He explained some threats even mentioned the Ku Klux Klan, saying that the racist group will take “appropriate action,” although the people sending the messages do not explicitly say that they’re members of the group.
The Weber County Attorney’s Office is aware of the alleged threats and is cooperating with the Weber State Police Department to investigate, according to deputy Weber County attorney Branden Miles. Debate team members have also been offered police escorts to their classes.
Meanwhile, Moreno says he hasn’t received any threats because of his videos. One campus group, Never Neutral Union, has formed calling for Moreno’s expulsion. One debate team and NNU member, Rei Olsen, defended Wash, saying, “It is very common, at least in college debate, that the coaches just say, ‘This is the argument you’re running — as a school, we all run the same argument.’ But Ryan is amazing at letting us all run what we want to run.”
Moreno also accuses Wash of requiring arguments to include mention of oppression based on gender, race, class or sexual orientation, even if the debate topic isn’t directly related to these themes. Moreno said this method encourages a victim mentality. However, Wash argues that his approval of an argument is “whether or not it can stand up to scrutiny.” He said gender, race, class, and sexual orientation are not required features of every topic or argument, but they do come up often in the arguments of opposing teams, so it’s important that the Weber State team be ready to address them.
Moreno said that he told Wash that he felt “hated by everyone,” and Wash assured him that he wasn’t. Moreno still argued that Wash was “vulgar and rude to me. He does not like me.”
The university is continuing their investigation into both sides, according to executive director of marketing and communications John Kowalewski. President Brad Mortensen also added that “if disciplinary action is taken, it is the university’s long-standing policy that it does not publicly share or discuss personnel or student conduct violations.”