The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

“Border safety” Project Provokes Controversy

A blue VW golf pulls up to the unexpected orange barrier in Reed’s east parking lot. It’s late morning on Tuesday. A man in a day-glow vest and sunglasses steps up to the car’s window. “Can I see your papers?” The car doesn’t have the paperwork he’s looking for, so the man hands out an official-looking temporary pass. Next, he asks for a photo of the driver, who agrees. He takes out a camera and snaps the picture, and a woman raises the barrier so the confused driver can pass through.

The man in the vest, and the person who raised the barrier, are both Reed students. They are responsible for the “surveillance posters” that have been seen around campus, with images of prisons and barbed wire and slogans such as “Don’t Burst the Bubble,” “Keep Reed In, Portland Out,” and “Strengthen Our Borders.” The students wished to remain unnamed for this article, though they approved the inclusion of their picture. Based on the messages people have written on the posters, the posters have generated a strong reaction among the student body. Mikey Badr ’12 stated that the posters’ authors were “idiots desperate for a machine to rage against. If they had legitimate points they would share them in a legitimate way.”

A missed connection lambasted the author of the posters as “a vile, insensitive douche” for purportedly using an image from Auschwitz. One of the posters’ creators confirmed that one of the images was indeed from Auschwitz, although this was discovered after the posters were created. The student admitted that they should have done a better job of researching the images, but defended the choice: “I don’t believe it was unethical. It’s not readily apparent that the photograph has any connection to the Holocaust, which shows that it was not an attempt to capitalize on those events.”

Most saw the posters as linked to the recent arrests on campus. What they most likely did not realize is that the posters are part of a studio art project, conceived before the arrests by two Reed students in the Social Practice class. Nonetheless, one of the students welcomes the linkage: “while this project was not directly motivated by the arrests, I think the two things are certainly related.” In addition, the posters were meant to provoke a strong reaction, although the student believes that people will become more comfortable with the posters once they become aware of the broader project.

One of the issues with the posters was their abstract nature. One student admitted the posters carried a “cryptic message.” To elaborate, the two students wrote a public statement (page 3) labeling themselves as “Border Division of Safety Management,” or BDSM. Reaction to the statement on The Quest’s website was largely negative. Some anonymous commenters expressed frustration at the statement’s and posters’ lack of clear position on campus events. Others attacked the statement’s creators as “spoiled alarmist Reedies” and “wannabe Abbie Hoffmans.”

In person, at their “performance” with their orange barrier in the east parking lot, the students were evasive about their point. One of them said that they were “posing very vague questions,” with the aim of seeing how people react. The other stated in a message that the project “is meant to evoke questions regarding the arbitrary nature of power and authority.” The same student downplayed the importance of the “bubble” theme: According to this student, it “is more of a vehicle for approaching those issues, rather than the central point.”

The anonymity of the posters posed problems for those hoping to communicate with their authors. They have now created an email address for those wishing to communicate with them about the project: reedbdsm@gmail.com. One of the students defended their anonymous approach, relating it to the focus on “the arbitrary nature of power and authority”: “We don’t want the power to derive from any tangible or obvious source.”

The “performance” in the east parking lot on Tuesday, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., passed in a relatively low-key manner. Many who passed in and out of the parking lot were clearly confused, but most contained their confusion and waited patiently for their “temporary pass” and for the barrier to be lifted. One student riding out of the parking lot in an SUV asked, “Is this for real?” He was assured it was, and handed a policy statement.

The professor teaching Social Practice, Pato Hebert, had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.

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