April 25, 2019 | 56° F

UZUMCU: U. must acknowledge its impact on immigrant communities

Opinions Column: Fahrenheit 250

Graffiti reading “Viva la deportation,” “Make America Great Again” and “Deport force coming” on the College Avenue and Livingston campuses instigated an immediate response from the Center for Latino Arts and Culture. Swift and ardent organizing took place to call out hateful language that both explicitly and implicitly works to disempower vast sectors of the Rutgers, and also the greater New Brunswick communities. Rutgers is a non-tax-paying entity in New Brunswick. Students are benefiting not only from the welfare of the state but also the welfare of the municipality, which has a of majority Latinx and high immigrant population invested in the city for longer than the average four-year college attendee. Framing the spatial conceptualization of New Brunswick in this way, the message behind “Viva la deportation” is entrenched in its own hypocrisy regarding intrusion of space. Instead it racializes the legitimacy of who deserves to inhabit freely. Similar strains of hypocrisy have saturated the law enforcement's response to the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance led by leaders of the Sioux nation. The militaristic response to indigenous populations’ “occupation” of the land deemed for corporate energy use designates the Sioux protectors as the intruders — a claim that in one swift phrase erases the genocide and continued settler-colonial governance of indigenous peoples’ land. The police force on the ground in North Dakota violently defends and protects corporate energy interests by using rubber bullets, pepper spray, beatings, as well as tactics of surveillance. Hence the interests that corporations and institutions echo as moral through legal power structures are entangled in their own historical contradictions furthered by policing technologies. Social media has proved to be an apt organizer for meetings and mobilizing turnout, like the CLAC’s outreach to students affected by the hate speech, but the events unfolding in North Dakota are telling of the mechanisms of control, such as racialized categorization of "intruders."

When the University, an exclusive intrusion in its own right within the New Brunswick municipality, echoes rather than condemns anti-immigration speech, it disempowers the rights of those who are immigrants to exist freely, openly and express themselves with free speech. Hate speech cannot be protected as free speech if it impedes on the rights of individuals in our community to also openly and freely speak. When Rutgers administration categorizes hate speech as free speech, free speech as we know it is under attack. Fortunately, there are powerful spaces and centers on campus, like the CLAC and SJE (Social Justice Education), where students find their concerns elevated. The Latinx community is not the only group affected on campus or by the national climate. Muslim, black, brown and Middle Eastern students are too targeted by anti-immigrant and pro-Trump speech. There requires greater solidarity in organizing stances between groups on campus. Within organizations like the Muslim Student Association (MSA), however, there is not an unwarranted reluctance to politically organize. There is a shared history of NYPD surveillance of various Muslim student groups across the country, including the Rutgers MSA. The mechanisms of policing designed to control and monitor, characterize particular communities as "hyper-political" and "controversial" by nature, deterring community political mobilization. Similar policing forces, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are designed to target, raid and surveil undocumented immigrant communities of color in extremely violent processes. Members of multiple communities within the University are under scrutiny, requiring a greater conversation and social action on bodies deemed as "intruders."

Though the administration has a warped view of the role of safe space, for many students, their own bodies are not safe spaces from intrusion or assault. We are not asking for an insulated bubble. It is clear from last week’s incidents that even when multiple communities are under target in the national rhetoric, progressive spaces do not exist outside of culture. We are asking for an acknowledgement that for many directly affected in our community, such words cannot go without consequence. Rutgers, who provides in-state tuition to undocumented New Jersey high school graduates, should work to protect the centers and communities affected by hate speech in physical ways. A diversity section in the Strategic Plan will not be the deciding factor that differentiates Rutgers from institutions that employ exclusionary and violent mechanisms, rather systematic changes in approach will only begin to fulfill the University’s "revolutionary" messaging. The Rutgers administration must take a stand in acknowledging its own relationship with an immigrant community both within and immediately outside its iron gates.

Meryem Uzumcu is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in planning and public policy, Middle Eastern studies and women’s and gender studies. Her column, “Fahrenheit 250,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Meryem Uzumcu

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