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Students told: Don’t use term ‘illegal immigrant’ on final exam

Students enrolled in an American studies class at the University of Southern California have been told not to use the term “illegal immigrant” on their final exam essay.

“Hi everyone, one last message from me this semester,” an email to students sent Thursday stated. “On your final exams, please refrain from using the term ‘illegal immigrant’ to refer to human beings — as Professor Chavez has requested (or mandated). Instead, please use ‘undocumented immigrant’ or ‘unauthorized entry’ to describe folks’ status or how they may have arrived in the U.S.”

uscillegalimmigrantThe email was written by Jolie Chea, a teachers assistant for Professor Alicia Chávez in the class “America, the Frontier and the New West.” Chea and Chávez did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment late Thursday from The College Fix.

A copy of Chea’s email was provided to The Fix by a student in the class who asked to remain anonymous for fear that their final grade might be hurt for going to the media with the information.

But the student said they felt the admonishment against using the wording was a violation of their First Amendment rights and, what’s more, forbids them from using a legal term also employed by the courts. But the student said they will avoid using the term so as to not derail their grade.

The student provided a copy of the final exam essay questions as well. The long essay prompt asked:

Historically, the North American West has been imagined as a geography of leisure, opportunity, entertainment, and wealth, and also as a place where people of color could live outside of the structures of inequality. However, by 1992, Los Angeles became associated with severe racial and class conflict. How would you characterize the nature of lived experience in the West by the late 19th through the early 21st century? Is it a region that has maintained long-held hierarchies of inequality that continue to circumscribe people’s lives? Is it a region that has opened new opportunities for persons or communities that could not find them in other places?

The student said they are not surprised by the request to not use the term “illegal immigrant” because “the entire class has been anti-American values, anti-Constitution, anti-Declaration of Independence, anti-Bible, anti-Trump.”

“The entire class is, ‘How can we make things more equal,'” the student said. “They peddle this socialist sort of economic idea when they look at equality in the United States, and they peddle it through race.”

MORE: Student fired after writing ‘illegal alien’ in column

The required texts for the course, according to the syllabus, are:

Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland
Phoebe S. Kropp, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place
Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction
Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil’s Highway: A True Story

This is not the first time Chávez’s class has prompted controversy. In September 2015, the scholar bristled during her lecture at the notion that the Founding Fathers deserve praise.

MORE: Professors call Founding Fathers ‘terrorists,’ founding ideals a ‘fabrication’

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.