there's our catastrophe

Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.

Posts tagged auspol

Jul 18 2014

I keep trying to summarise the last six months in Australian border politics for people outside Australia but all I can come up with is: I feel an intense sense of panic that something is happening that will be looked back on by almost everyone, once enough time has passed, as shocking passive acceptance of great evil. And the same people who do this now will try and smooth it over and create a narrative of inexorable progress that exonerates them from reflection, will say then, like they say now, “well, they didn’t know any better at the time” or “nobody knew what was really happening” and there won’t even be anything to point to to say we did, we did, we knew, or at least we knew there was something to know and chose not to investigate… People are being handed back to their torturers, people are being murdered, killing themselves, people are being disappeared by the Government before they can testify about these things. Please find out about what is happening to asylum seekers coming to Australia, please talk about it, please protest your local Australian embassy, please boycott Australia, please hassle Australians you meet about it, p l e a s e

Jul 16 2014
"More than 150 Tamil asylum seekers on board an Australian border protection vessel are being detained in windowless locked rooms with men kept apart from their families against their will, newly released high court documents have revealed."

"More than 150 Tamil asylum seekers on board an Australian border protection vessel are being detained in windowless locked rooms with men kept apart from their families against their will, newly released high court documents have revealed."


This year I started tutoring at a university (TAing for North Americans) and it’s been interesting/disturbing to get an inside perspective on academia.  I wasn’t a particularly good student as an undergraduate, partly because of intellectual arrogance but mostly because my mental health was bad.  But it wasn’t helpful to me to speculate about how sympathetic to me and my disability accommodations academics were privately, so I tried not to think about it.  Now I have to. 

I think the core issue is that most academics, even the nice ones, think that academia is a meritocracy, and that students who don’t do well probably don’t deserve to. They have to think that because it means their own academic successes are meaningful, and their goals are meaningful. It prevents them being crushed by the reality of the incredibly arbitrary academic job market, it maintains their belief that if they’re worthy, they’ll get through. 

I would say that by far the most openly stigmatised students among academics in Australian universities are international students from non-English-speaking, majority-non-white countries. They’re often seen as entitled blow-ins who think they can just pay their way to a degree without putting in the hard yards. Their struggles with English are seen as proof that they lack the most basic level of competence, that they are too arrogant to learn. The reality is that the average international student is impoverished, socially marginalised, and vulnerable to violence and exploitation at work, in the street, and in their own homes. 

A large number of international students are, in fact, primarily here for the visa, not the degree. You think an Indian international student is going to learn more in your shitty info tech program than something in Bangalore or Hyderabad?  India is one of the info tech capitals of the world. But the Australian course is recognised in Australia, so it’s a pathway to residency. In many ways it’s no different to any other student who’s after a degree as a pathway to a better life.  But when you add migration into the mix, the prospective student is seen as sneaky, disingenuous, a threat.  Liz Thompson and Ben Rosenzweig wrote an excellent article about this a few years ago.  They note:

"The Department of Immigration and Citizen­ship regularly undertakes quasi-actuarial assessments of the likelihood that student visa applicants will prove ‘genuine students’, assessments substantially based upon the proportions of previous students deemed in breach of visa conditions. As a result, while students from the US are only required to say they have the financial resources to support their study, students from countries profiled as problematic are granted visas only if they can prove that they have access to up to AU$50,000. The invocation of the ‘genuine student’ and of ‘immigration risk’ is code for something else: the risk minimised is not of the immigrant but of the unprofitable immigrant – the refugee, for example."

It’s still a lot easier to get a student visa than a refugee visa. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is an international scandal. A high number of people seeking asylum in Australia are fleeing conflicts unrecognised by the Australian Government like the ongoing slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Under such circumstances, you’d be well advised to try almost any other path to residency before formally seeking asylum. But if you suggest to an academic that they should grade a student slightly easier because they’re at risk of deportation, all of a sudden the most liberal, pro-refugee academic is deeply insulted by the suggestion that they’re in any way compromised by acting as an extra arm of Australian border policing, or that the integrity of the grading curve be compromised merely because someone could be literally murdered. This coming from people who’ll adjust course content without a murmur because a high number of fails might look bad.

Pretty good disability accommodations are available if you can get your condition formally recognised. But this means having the resources to navigate bureaucracy, which comes down to language, class, culture, other demands on your time, etc. If a student is successful in getting recognised as having a disability, I can do a fair bit for them. If they’re not, my options are limited. Ongoing life circumstances that don’t fit a medical model aren’t recognised. You can’t get long-term accommodations for having a native language other than English, for being a recent arrival, for having no family support, working overnight shifts for low pay, for living with abuse, for poverty, for experiencing racism in the academy, for grief, for trauma from genocide, unless you can prove that the distress this causes fits into a medical model. 

This is similar to a lot of things people already know about gatekeeping and whose disabilities are considered “genuine” and who has access to healthcare.  But here, a medical framework isn’t necessarily what’s actually going on, it’s just the only available way to present difficulties in such a way that they’ll be seen as objectively present. Then again, I’d argue that the majority of disability accessibility issues are political, not technical, in nature — they’re about access to space and resources.

I guess where I’m going with this is that the logic of academic ableism (that if you can’t complete a task, you don’t deserve to) also operates to marginalise other vulnerable people who aren’t best described as disabled.  It would be cool and useful to look at the ways we can talk about and combat this underlying logic. 

Jul 14 2014