At this time, I think most students know that a UMass Boston student has come down with the coronavirus. This is not news to anyone. But amid all the shock and hysteria, our campus has to remember some important truths.
It is one thing to be afraid of a disease or an illness. According to CNN, more people have died due to the coronavirus than to the SARS outbreak of 2001 (1), with 361 people having died in China, and one person having died in the Philippines. The United States issued a huge quarantine, one that has not happened in over 50 years (2), and people all over Boston are worried. However, this growing fear all around the world is causing misinformation to spread, and what is worse, racism and xenophobia towards the Chinese community is rising all over the world.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there has been a huge increase in anti-Chinese sentiment throughout California. As they say, “warnings to avoid Asian food and Asian-populated areas have circulated.” On top of this, the University of California Berkeley released an Instagram post stating that xenophobia is a “common reaction” to the growing concern about coronavirus (3). This sparked outrage among the UC Berkeley students, and the post has since been removed, but this kind of message only validates those who feel that their racism is either necessary or welcome.
In addition, the New York Times has reported this kind of behavior all across the globe. As they say, “In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan has been trending on Twitter. In Singapore, tens of thousands of residents have signed a petition calling for the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country. [And,] in Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam, businesses have posted signs saying that mainland Chinese customers are not welcome.” This kind of response is never okay, no matter the situation. The petition especially reminds me of the Chinese Exclusion of 1882, an incredibly racist act passed by President Chester A. Arthur that still has repercussions today.
Of course, with the arrival of coronavirus to Boston, there is a large risk that these kinds of responses become more frequent. Already misinformation has spread across the community. Personally, I’ve heard that the affected student had gone to classes and eaten at the dining hall before going to University Health Services. This is incorrect. The student came home late from a flight, and the next day visited UHS immediately by car. Health officials were properly protected, and procedures were followed the best that they could have been.
This misinformation can only lead to racism against the Asian community on our campus. It has already infected the greater Boston community. Nico Lam, a Biology student, said that on the commuter rail, “when they say the next station is JFK/UMass, you can feel people staring at you as if you were a monster. It’s dehumanizing people.” Another student, Amanda Tran, said “someone asked my coworker if the kid who coughed on him was Asian, and of course, all the accounts on the news and the ignorance and refusal to do research within the East Asian Community is disgusting.”
Our campus is a centerpiece of learning for all. We are the most diverse campus in Massachusetts, and have students all around the globe. We cannot allow this place to be marred by xenophobia and fear. Perhaps the person who said this best was Jana Trehan, the Managing Editor for Writ Large. As she said in a tweet on Saturday, “Being afraid of something unknown is okay, but being openly racist to entire ethnic groups for something that’s out of their control is not okay. Let’s be kind to our East Asian peers and remember this could’ve happened anywhere, and to anyone.”
We see the effects of racism and xenophobia on the East Asian community. We see the way that misinformation leads to racism, which will only lead to more misinformation. It is a vicious cycle. I can only hope that by recognizing the patterns of xenophobia, we can prevent it from invading our community.