Staff Editorial: On the coronavirus: Do not fall into fear and feed into xenophobia

It’s hard to avoid talking about the coronavirus. With daily headlines, Facebook posts and numerous emails from the school, the discussion doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. While fear and confusion are understandable reactions from the widespread panic about the virus, it is important to be able to talk about the disease in a way that isn’t offensive and isolating.

The coronavirus isn’t an excuse to be racist or xenophobic. Making insensitive comments and isolating people can’t be justified by being “afraid” of catching the virus. According to CNN, racist attacks against Asian people are on the rise. This kind of abuse is becoming more and more prevalent, despite the fact that there have only been 14 confirmed cases in the U.S.

Last week, students at the University of Albany threw a coronavirus-themed party. These kinds of events are obviously insensitive, but they also show the level of inconsideration that part of the population has for the seriousness of the virus. Making the coronavirus the theme of a party and diluting it to a costume — such as wearing surgical masks while drinking beer — is ignorant at best, and malicious at worst.

As a university with an international student body, we have a responsibility to our fellow students. Jokes and memes about the coronavirus are harmful, even if you consider humor as a coping mechanism for fear. Think about your peers who may be experiencing this sort of harassment outside of school. Think about your peers who may have family back home who are in more danger of the virus than any of us are. International students may already feel isolated, and we should not be contributing to that further.

Refraining from making harmful comments is only one part of the issue. If a friend or classmate says something inappropriate, call them out, and realize that you can step in to point out the potential impacts of what they’ve said. Don’t let your fear allow xenophobia and racism to go unchecked. Keep each other accountable and recognize that even small comments have consequences.

On the other hand, it’s important not to overcompensate as a means to prove that you aren’t racist. Emphasizing that you aren’t racist to your Asian friends isn’t helpful, and it can come across as being performative. Don’t spend your time trying to convince people that you’re politically correct; instead, be available to listen to your friends if they want to talk.

It’s also important not to buy into the fear-mongering without knowing the facts for yourself. Don’t just read the headlines of articles, which can often make stories look worse than they are. For example, the headline of Vox’s article “‘We are at a turning point’: The coronavirus outbreak is looking more like a pandemic” is startling, but the article later clarifies that a pandemic can be classified as such without being extremely severe or fatal.

While the coronavirus is serious, some of the journalistic coverage can be sensationalist and misleading. Do research outside of what you hear from other people or what you see while scrolling through Facebook. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has resources that you can use to educate yourself, including information on the disease itself, situation updates and risk assessment. According to the website, the risk to the general American public is officially considered low.

With that said, the fear is understandable, especially with the attention that the media, government and even the University has given to the disease. The Wash. U. student body has received three emails from Habif Health and Wellness Center about the coronavirus since being back at school. Because there is no immediate threat to Wash. U., the Student Life Editorial Board believes it would be best if Habif does not send any more updates unless there is a threat to campus. Focusing on issues that actually affect the Wash. U. community, like accessibility to flu shots (which is more deadly in the U.S. than the coronavirus), would be more useful to the students.

If you are concerned for your health, then funnel this concern into positive and effective actions that help your immune system, such as frequent hand washing, consuming the right percentage of vitamins, getting a full night’s sleep, exercising and staying hydrated.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s not okay to be hateful and xenophobic. If you are truly concerned, do your research, take steps to promote your own health, but do not let fear overtake your rationality. Do not let fear breed intolerance.

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