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Campus preacher shares offensive message

September 16, 2021

UW-River Falls officials say a recent case of public preaching on campus has the administration considering how to respond, but no action has been decided on yet. 

Early in the semester, a man named David Miller reserved a space at the UW-River Falls circle patio, north west of the University Center, to exercise his free speech rights, according to Cara Rubis, director of the University Center and Dining Services.

Miller is not a UWRF student, according to Student Involvement. The man had religious signage, and according to Dina Fassino, the director of communications and marketing, Miller engaged in civil debate with students.

A number of the comments being made by Miller were anti-LGBTQIA+ and targeted other identities as well, according to Nathan Riel-Elness, the gender and sexuality outreach coordinator. 

“Some of our students had a very strong emotional reaction as they felt personally attacked by the messages,” said Riel-Elness. “Our office, in coordination with the Chancellor’s office, provided a space for these students to come, process through their feelings, and then ask questions and provide feedback to campus leadership. We had a great conversation that has provided us with numerous action items and follow-up conversations.”

Jamie Zamjahn, the assistant chancellor for student success, said Miller properly reserved the space outside the University Center, and was within his constitutional rights to share his message.

Unfortunately, the opinions he expressed were offensive to some of our students,” said Zamjahn. “I met and listened to students who were offended by the speaker’s opinions. Chancellor Gallo, Provost Travis, and I told these same students that UWRF will be reviewing its policies and practices based on what happened. I quote Chancellor Gallo’s Friday, September 3 email to campus, ‘Hate Has No Place at UWRF.’”

Fassino said university police and two River Falls City officers were on the scene in case things escalated. 

In response to the incident, Chancellor Maria Gallo sent out a mass email addressing the situation. She said: “I also will be looking into additional education for our campus as a whole around civil discourse, free speech and how to foster and engage in productive dialogue.”

According to Beth Schommer, the chief of staff, at this time there are no specific examples of additional education for campus as a whole, though there may be a moderated roundtable conversation between student organizations in the future.