After over a year of quiet in the Millennium Student Center, the UMSL Radio will finally be returning. Students and community members will soon be able to host and listen to radio shows. Despite this good news, the fact that student-run media can die so easily remains unnerving.
"We had the radio station. We still had the TV station… but there was nobody a part of the organization after my sophomore year," said UMSL alum and former SEMPA President, Dre Williams.
Williams recounted barely keeping the organization alive. He also wrote, produced, and hosted a show called The Element on UTV, and he also DJ'd for SEMPA. COVID temporarily shut down UMSL Radio. The TV Station, U TV, remains inactive.
But even before COVID, SEMPA and student media had issues.
"The problem is engagement… students using platforms to voice their thoughts and opinions is a great tool for the campus collective," said Rachel Thompson, a cohost for an UMSL radio show called The Spice Girls.
Based on my observations within my five years at UMSL, I agree with this sentiment. I also acknowledge that while student media at UMSL has not popped off before, the pandemic has further harmed student media and stifled the primary avenues for collective student voices. It is time for UMSL administration, the student government, and UMSL students to show that they affirm the importance of student media in the following ways:
We must ensure that student media prioritizes students.
Student media should be predominantly student-run and student-centered. Staff, faculty, and alumni may be allowed involvement; however, their role should primarily be guiding current students.
Williams noted that some alums failed to pay dues and showed little interest in helping current students in SEMPA. Meanwhile, students were expected to pay dues and maintain the organization.
"I didn't even want them to be a part of it anymore because they just wanted to have a radio show," Williams said.
Media-based student organizations should put the needs of students first before anyone else. After all, we are currently paying tuition for these resources. These facilities should be used to promote student voices before anyone else.
We must acknowledge that student media is inherently different from regular student organizations by their function.
After all, student media has been an integral part of UMSL since the very first student paper, the Tiger Cub, was published in 1963, the year UMSL was founded. I even recall a student-run Chinese newspaper at UMSL circulating. More generally, student media has been an integral part of major universities across the United States.
Because of this, UMSL's major student media organizations should fall under a different category than other student organizations. Currently, this is the case for the Current and the honors college paper, Brainstew. However, SEMPA is still treated differently.
All of these organizations should collectively fall under a new Student Media umbrella outside of the traditional student organization structure. Furthermore, they should strictly serve the needs of students. Under this new classification, concerns over student expression and media, e.g., funding, may be specifically addressed. New student-run media platforms that hope to fall under this classification should also go through a process similar to that of new student organizations.
We must implement reasonable stipends for students working in media.
"They wanted us to DJ events, but they wanted the student organization to get paid," Williams said.
Students did not get credit nor pay for this work until Williams addressed these problems regarding unfair practice to administration.
This means increased pay for members of the Current including staff writers, photographers, designers, and editors, as well as implementing payment for members of SEMPA whether they be radio hosts, content creators, or workers in any other capacity.
We must make media more accessible.
This means ensuring that UMSL Radio is available not only as a radio station but potentially making it potentially available in a podcasting format on their website just like NPR does. Also, if UTV is ever revived, a live broadcast should be made available on its YouTube page.
We must completely protect student voices.
Williams expressed concerns about censorship. He recognized others expressed hesitancy in self-expression due to fears of losing university funding.
"They would tell us don’t talk bad about the university because the university might want to shut us down," he said.
While protecting student voices may be a more abstract concept, there are ways we can achieve this. I suggest the Student Government creates an official Student Bill of Rights that not only affirms basic rights for students but sets guidelines on how the student government will uphold these rights. Included among these should be the right to free speech and the press.
Ultimately, we must increase investment in student media as well as the Communications and Media departments of UMSL. Media has been central to many societies for centuries. Our university must choose to uplift student voices by further investing in media.
When student media dies, student speech loses power.