Tuesday night’s exchange between Nathan Deal and members of UGA’s Undocumented Student Alliance has garnered serious attention from both THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE and other news organizations. The student alliance (abbreviated USA) is no stranger to staging interruptions and protests, including one outside UGA administrative offices last semester.
Lost in these protests and organization is a coherent and legal-based framework justifying a change in state policy. Their Facebook page advertises “advocacy and solidarity” yet fails to offer a blueprint justifying changes and policy fixes.
Though the question of whether or not the Board of Regents’ policy is justified is an issue in itself, I’m writing to indict the USA’s form of advocacy and argumentation. No matter which side one supports, it is important to look at both sides of the issue and analyze the intentions behind the original Georgia Board of Regents Ban.
In 2010, the Board approved the ban to make sure tax-paying US citizens, as well as those legal residents working towards citizenship, were given a fair chance at admission into Georgia’s top universities. Though this has its own set of justifications and arguments, USA neither covers nor speaks to these issues in its advocacy. Their statements portray a complex issue as completely clear — characterizing the current policy as discriminatory and painting all foes as pro-discrimination.
USA’s strategy in bringing attention to these issues ignores the substance; it merely paints the entire status quo as “discrimination” without much justification. The Board of Regents’ goal was not outré discrimination against any particular race or national origin. In fact, there are mechanisms to legally acquire student visas and support to enroll in a state university. Section 4.1.2 of the Georgia Regent’s policy bans any discrimination in the University System on the basis of race and national origin among other things, and UGA’s official policy does the same. The limiting factor is a student’s legal status, no matter where he or she is from.
It’s no surprise the media and students are attracted to these brash interruptions — it’s an easy summary soundbite that allows them to avoid delving into the complexities of the issue. Yes, there was an awkward moment between Governor Deal and the students, but there’s so much more than that involved with this law.
Yet USA touts these events on social media as victories for the side of right — victories, as it happens, that are no more than the creation of awkward moments to give them attention. This is not victory in the sense of winning an argument. It’s not even a display of “solidarity.” It’s a display only of communication, which Columbia Professor Jodi Dean indicts:
“The fantasy of abundance covers over the way facts and opinions, images and reactions circulate in a massive stream of content, losing their speciﬁcity and merging with and into the data ﬂow. Any given message is thus a contribution to this ever-circulating content.” Later…“In communicative capitalism, however, the use value of a message is less important than its exchange value, its contribution to a larger pool…”*
It’s all publicity and no advocacy for real issues, especially if the purpose is to “raise awareness.” Darin Barney, a Canadian professor, believes this can actually hurt movements because it encourages passivity:
“They are immobilized precisely because they are informed, and thereby relieved of the need to judge and to act. In this way, information, one of the key principles of publicity, becomes simultaneously a principle of depoliticization.”**
At that rate, I’d argue that these displays by USA are not “activism” but childish pleas for attention with no appreciation for the legal and moral justifications behind them. While the organization has met with officials to talk about policy, which is indeed useful, the lack of focus on substance when addressing the issue in the public eye is in the end more harmful than helpful.
—Tucker Boyce is a sophomore studying economics
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* “Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics”; Cultural Politics, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 57-60
** “Politics and Emerging Media: The Revenge of Publicity”, p. 96