When University Health Services made a recent social media post outlining common reactions to coronavirus, many were quick to point out that one thing on the list seemed inconsistent with the rest. As the post garnered backlash from the university community, UHS issued an apology, but the damage was done — through a “misunderstanding,” the campus essentially condoned feelings of xenophobia toward people of Asian descent.
Even before coronavirus became a global epidemic, latent racial and ethnic prejudices existed on campus. The UHS post inadvertently brought these implicit biases to the surface while normalizing xenophobic reactions toward Asian people, purely because coronavirus originated in Asia. UHS employees should have been more mindful of their message in order to not create an environment where xenophobia would be deemed acceptable.
Comments such as those made by UHS are part of the larger issue. Spreading misinformation based on xenophobia is not new. Throughout history, people from different ethnicities and racial backgrounds have been at the center of accusations for diseases, contrary to what any scientific research may say. Misinformation is often perpetuated by a lack of understanding when it comes to a disease’s specifics, such as how it can be transmitted. In fact, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted during the recent Ebola outbreak, those who knew the most about how the disease was transmitted were least worried.
UHS should have used this post to better educate students on the virus. The fact of the matter is that the virus’s risk remains low in the U.S, while hundreds of deaths and more than 30,000 cases have been reported in China. By using its social media platform to better dispel myths, UHS could have informed more students about the risks that the virus poses instead of contributing to a xenophobic environment.
This is not the only harmful social media post out there — one glance at any of the UC Berkeley-related meme pages shows how social media content can play a hand in contributing to toxic environments. Posts poking fun at those infected or sensationalizing a serious epidemic are just as harmful as xenophobic posts. Instead of contributing to an online culture that promotes dramatized reactions, more should be done to uplift communities in need.
The UHS post condoning xenophobia is not acceptable, especially considering how many students may have family in the regions predominantly impacted by coronavirus. Although the health center’s social media team issued an apology post, it was only after the removal of the original post, which showcases an attempt to sweep a severe misfire in judgement under the rug.
Those running the account should have realized the consequences of their insensitive post and, instead of providing only apologies, offered resources on how to combat xenophobia.