Let me begin by introducing three observations I’ve collected about dreams—not subconscious reveries, but visions for the future. First, I did not learn how to dream until I realized the amount of power that a dream could sustain. I learned how to dream, not just for me but for my communities, by relishing in grand visions such as racial equity and gender parity, shared by dreamers before me. My second observation reports what I surmise to be the most prevalent, yet most courageous type of dream—the dream of an immigrant. There is something profoundly gripping about an individual’s or a family’s decision to uproot their lives and begin anew in a foreign land. My third observation leads me to the topic of this article. The freedom to dream has slipped through the cracks. What was once a debate on immigration and security has now devolved into a debate on how to govern the dreams envisioned by innocent DREAMers. I firmly believe that DACA students deserve the right to dream, but other students at UC San Diego have recently challenged this perspective.
On December 7, UCSD student Gregory Lu, who is also the California College Republicans Regional Vice Chair, posted about 150 political posters in high-traffic locations throughout campus. Each poster featured an image of Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed in 2015 by an undocumented immigrant named Jose Ines Garcia Zarate. A week before the posters appeared, the court ruled Steinle’s murder an accident and acquitted Zarate of both counts of manslaughter and murder. The posters’ caption “She had dreams too” presumably scapegoats DACA recipients, also known as “DREAMers,” as the perpetrators of intentional violent crimes unlike Steinle’s accidental murder. A recent news article published by The Triton describes the situation and the University’s lack of response following the Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination’s initial contact with Lu. While the purpose of OPHD investigations is to resolve complaints, rather than punish actors, Lu indicated disinterest in meeting with the office with suspicion that it would attempt to stifle his free speech.
Lu defends his posters by suggesting that they “put forth the alternative narrative” on a campus teeming with leftist propaganda. To some, printing and posting over one hundred flyers misrepresenting DACA recipients as criminals may constitute an appropriate tactic to stimulate thoughtful narratives on immigration policy. To me, however, this tactic leaves no space for discussion, and constitutes yet another iteration of the politics of fear-mongering on our campus. Citing the prevalence of so-called “liberal” posters—most of which apolitically advertise resources for marginalized students on our campus—to justify distributing anti-immigrant propaganda is nonsensical. Students who refuse to conceptualize racism and anti-immigrant sentiment as systemic, rather than relational, reflect the failure of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program at UCSD.
While the DEI requirement was instituted following 2010’s “Compton Cookout,” UCSD’s silence following the Steinle poster incident begs the question of the university’s commitment to the mission that drives the DEI program. Many DEI courses share curricula illustrating the systemic nature of racism against undocumented students in the United States. These courses often highlight statistics demonstrating that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. If students are taught to fight discrimination inside the classroom, why is UCSD afraid to speak out when instances of this very perpetuation of discrimination occurs outside of the classroom?
Let me be clear: Criticizing the distribution of sensational anti-immigrant posters does not equate to censoring non-mainstream political views. So then why has UCSD, a self-proclaimed sanctuary campus, remained silent?
On paper, UCSD has explicitly expressed its commitment to protecting undocumented students on its campus, but in practice, UCSD has fallen short in fostering a campus community that offers sanctuary to undocumented students amidst controversy. A campus that remains silent in light of hateful propaganda targeting undocumented students is not a “sanctuary.” It is another institution complicit in reinforcing inaccurate stereotypes and low expectations on a community that has been set up for failure in every facet of their lives. A “sanctuary campus” should not circumvent condemning hate speech in fear of violating free speech. Advocates of unadulterated free speech may disagree and argue that hate speech is free speech too. However, the conversation at our university is unique from the broader free speech conversation precisely because UCSD has committed its campus to offering sanctuary to undocumented students. This is not a question about whether or not the posters should be allowed. This is a question of whether our university will continue its passive, performative activism, or whether the university will use its power to reject the politics of fear and speak up for the people it claims to support.
Vaishnavi Paudel is the Opinion Editor for The Triton.