Class Establishes Social Media Campaigns

Sarah Mazer ’19, Senior Reporter

Three groups of Dickinson students are harnessing the power of social media to establish campaigns advocating for refugees, prisoner laborers and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients.

According to a statement made by Andrea Bisbjerg ’18 and echoed by Norma Jean Park ’18, although the campaigns began in a classroom, students have begun to see their campaigns as “more than just a class project.” The students are enrolled in the course “Social Movements, Media and Global Change,” taught by Visiting International Scholar Jacob Jacobs.

Jacobs said social media has the potential to be a “very potent mobilizing tool for national unity, tolerance, environmental protection or any issue that we care deeply about.” After learning about the successful use of social media in the Arab Springs and Black Lives Matter movements, Mary Smith ’20 said she concluded that social media has the power to help “rally people towards a cause… it’s so much easier to gather people worldwide over the internet.”

Maddy Braybrooke ’20 said that the class brainstormed pressing issues to test the power of social media firsthand through their own campaigns. She was designated to spearhead the campaign for DACA through the “Defend the Dream campaign,” while Park and Smith were designated as leaders for the “Refugee Show and Tell Project” and “Stop Prison Labor” campaigns respectively, and the rest of the students divided among the three groups based on interest.

The Refugee Show and Tell Project aims to “humanize refugees by collecting their stories, portraying them as more than a statistic, and questioning the perception of refugees as a homogenous bloc of suffering peoples,” according to the mission. Alexander Bossakov ’20, who thought of the idea for the campaign after discussing the diversity of experiences of refugees in an English class, said that one consequence of viewing refugees as a homogenous group is that it “prevents people from being able to emphasize and connect” with them. Bisbjerg added that it may also “inhibit their engagement in the community” in which they resettle.

The Refugee Show and Tell Project has focused on outreach both locally and internationally by partnering with the International Service Center in Harrisburg, which Park said has been a “mutually beneficial relationship.” Bisbjerg said that she has been amazed by the “overwhelming group” of support through the Facebook page, which has over 1,000 “likes” worldwide, including a large support network from Bangladesh. She added that influencing policy change would be an “incredible goal to achieve.” Park urged students to support the campaigns “Day of Action” on Thursday, Nov. 16 on Britton Plaza.

According to its mission statement, “Stop Prison Labor” aims to “put an end to unfair prison labor in the United States.” Smith, campaign leader, explained that corporations “exploit prison labor for a huge profit,” using prisoners who are paid only “16-40 cents for their work on average.” The group organized a showing of the documentary “13th,” a documentary that explores the “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States,” according to a New York Times review. According to the same review, the title refers to the 13th amendment, which prohibits slavery but allows for an exception when used for punishment of a crime. Smith said the movie title and 13th amendment inspired the group to organize its call to action on Oct. 13, when they asked Dickinson students to boycott four major companies using prison labor on that day and to sign a petition for the end of prison labor.

According to its mission statement, “Defend the Dream” aims to inform and encourage citizens to be as politically engaged as possible to push their representatives to vote in favor of DACA come March 2018 and is “rooted in the belief that DACA needs to be protected at all costs.” Braybrooke said that the campaign has become primarily an awareness campaign geared towards Dickinson students. Following the announcement of the termination of DACA, an email from the President’s Office stated that Dickinson “will always act in the best interests of our students and our prospective students, regardless of country of origin. Our admissions policy will not change, and our Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers do not now, nor will they, inquire about a student’s immigration status.” However, Kim Lopez Castellanos ’18 said that when she tried to contact the President’s Office for support for the campaign, she did not receive a response.

Braybrooke said that the group has already held a call to action and letter writing campaign on Britton Plaza and is in the process of planning a “calling party,” where students can lobby their representatives on behalf of DACA. In addition to advocating on campus, Braybrooke said that her group is also selling hats that say “Make America Dream Again” to raise money for United We Dream, a nonprofit dedicated to helping undocumented immigrants.

Jacobs said that on Dec. 1, students will present the impacts of their campaigns to the Dickinson community and will be evaluated by a panel of expert judges. Student leaders of the “The Refugee Show and Tell Project,” “Stop Prison Labor” and “Defend the Dream” urge students to visit their Facebook pages to learn more about the campaigns.