A little row at Ohio State University, which Cockburn would like to document, if he may. Victor Espinosa, a lecturer in sociology at Ohio State University, has been telling students that they are forbidden from using the term ‘illegal immigrant’ to describe immigrants who did not enter the country through the legal method. Because – drum roll – it is offensive.
Mr Espinosa has written to at least one student telling them they ‘will not be allowed to use the term illegal to refer to an unauthorized immigrant’ because it ‘dehumanizes, marginalizes and racializes the people it seeks to describe.’
In his wisdom and generosity, Espinosa grants that students may use the term illegal immigration – ‘since it describes a social process’ – but ‘you will not be allowed to use the term illegal to refer to a human being. Starting next week, any assignment or discussion post that uses the word “illegal immigrant” to refer to an unauthorized will not be accepted.’
Cockburn wonders: isn’t ‘unauthorized’ a more dehumanizing word than ‘illegal’? Anyway, the full message to one of his students, Hannah Emerson, is reprinted below. Readers can judge for themselves.
‘Welcome to the class! Very interesting post. In your post you used the term “illegal immigrants”. You should know that in this class, students will not be allowed to use the word “illegal” to refer to an unauthorized immigrant. The use of the term “illegal” by politicians and news media outlets to refer to an unauthorized immigrant, not only criminalizes undocumented workers, but it also dehumanizes, marginalizes, and racializes the people it seeks to describe.
‘In this class you can use the term illegal immigration, which describes a social process, but you will not be allowed to use the word “illegal” to refer to a human being. Starting next week, any assignment or discussion post that uses the word “illegal immigrant” to refer to an unauthorized immigrant will not be accepted.
‘Please see me in my office or send me an email if you have any questions about the organization of the class or assignment guidelines.
‘Thanks for taking this class!
Cockburn also spoke to Mr Espinosa, an engaging gentleman whose areas of expertise include ‘transnational migration and art, ‘Outsider art and Artistic Recognition’, ‘Latina/o Studies’, ‘oral history’ and ‘Ethnography and Qualitative Methodologies’, among other delights. He confirmed that he was forbidding students from using the term in his class. ‘We try to avoid terms that are derogatory,’ he said. ‘I try to send a private way to tell them that it is not correct to use the term so don’t use term.
‘I think the term is incorrect from a legal perspective but also from human perspective. It dehumanizes the person. Criminalizes the person. And racializes the person. This is a sociological concept.
‘Often students use the term accidentally because they aren’t aware – but by the end of the semester they understand why the term is not correct.’
Espinosa insisted that another reason he forbade the term ‘illegal’ is because there may be undocumented migrants in the class, who would be hurt by another student using the word ‘illegal’ in direct relation to immigrants. ‘I tell them try to avoid the term and only if they continue do I move to a second level if the student continues. And I’ll tell them, privately, that there may be students from DACA in the class.
‘There can be arguments on both sides, but you can’t use a term that’s not correct.’
His students don’t all feel the same way. ‘It made me feel as though my free speech as being violated,’ said Hannah Emerson. ‘I was upset. He told me that the term “illegal” to describe individuals who crossed the border illegally was dehumanizing and racist. I feel like he essentially called me a racist, bad person when told me to refrain from using the term.’