Imagine this: You're walking through Library Mall and spot a group of eager undergraduates approaching the Humanities building in hot pursuit of something. Upon second glance you realize they are not looking for something but rather someone, a student just like you or me. But this one is wearing a nametag reading "illegal immigrant." The rest of the students are looking for him and, if they succeed, are guaranteed to win money or maybe even a gift card.
We should all be thankful that, unlike universities such as New York University and the University of Michigan, this very scenario has not occurred on our campus in Madison — yet, at least. But we cannot afford to ignore these incidents altogether and must seek to understand exactly what this game is and why some students are so willing to play.
The game, called "Catch the Illegal Immigrant," is the brainchild of the College Republicans and involves exactly what I described earlier: a hunt for a student wearing a nametag proclaiming his or her illegal immigrant status. It serves to incite excitement in the students searching and anger in those who find the game racist and just plain wrong.
According to The New York Times, the most recent game was played Feb. 22 at NYU, where the number of protestors far exceeded those actually participating in the game. Video footage available on YouTube shows swarms of reporters with cameras and microphones, infuriated and likely embarrassed students and faculty members, as well as campus leaders like College Republican member David Laska fighting for camera time to defend the game. When asked by visibly enraged faculty members why his organization resorted to such outlandish ploys for attention instead of holding debates and meetings like their counterparts, the College Democrats, Laska responded, "Because nobody shows up."
Is this really the reason behind this obviously racist game? Were the College Republicans so down on their luck, recruiting students to attend their meetings, that this game was the only way to do so? Laska and his College Republican cohorts claim the game is just an innovative way to get students talking about important issues facing our generation.
And as for everyone other than the few College Republicans involved? Students showed up in throngs with signs protesting the game's singling out of immigrants, school administrators voiced their disappointment with the College Republicans' behavior and even political leaders weighed in. The Associated Press reported Feb. 27 that Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean urged the Republican National Committee to denounce the efforts of these College Republicans. While the RNC was quoted as agreeing the game was "both egregious and offensive," it also said it has no control over what College Republicans choose to do.
And it shouldn't. Like any campus group, the College Republicans have — and rightly so — free reign to do pretty much whatever they want, thanks to a little thing called freedom of speech. But does free speech still apply when those speaking are outwardly offensive and arguably racist? Of course. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
Even if we take at face value the claim by College Republicans that they are simply trying to get the usually uninterested and unmotivated college student crowd to care about an important issue such as immigration, the way in which they did so was wholly inappropriate. It is a shame to see members of student organizations using their favored positions to get media attention for a tasteless game rather than educating students about the actual issue. The game was devoid of any real information, making it hard for an outsider to understand how, exactly, the College Republicans expected informed dialogue to emerge at all.
Freedom of speech undoubtedly bars any legal action against this group, but it does not let university administrators and faculty members off the hook. They must continue to encourage College Republicans — and all student groups for that matter — to find other means of promoting dialogue. They must make it clear why this game is more offensive than it is educational.
What's the phrase again? It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt? Well, game over.
Emily Friedman ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies.