During my freshman year of college, unidentified people drew swastikas in the Dwight Lofts’ graffiti room.
In response, the college sent out an email to students—not even identifying it as anti-Semitic hate speech—just referring the Nazi hate symbols as “offensive graffiti.” The symbols were covered over with a fresh coat of eggshell-colored paint, as reported Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, by the Chronicle.
Nearly two years later, another minority group on campus is facing discrimination, this time as a result of the coronavirus, a steadily-growing global health emergency.
To address the virus—which has reached Chicago with at least two confirmed cases—the college sent out an email Monday, Jan. 27 with information on the virus and how to stay healthy. It listed recommendations such as getting a flu shot, practicing respiratory etiquette by using tissues when sneezing, knowing the signs of the flu rather than the coronavirus and staying away from individuals if you have the flu.
In the email, the college also emphasized that, per direction from the Chicago Department of Public Health, there is no immediate threat to the campus, and there is no need to wear medical masks or gloves.
The message held no mention of dissuading discrimination against students of Asian descent, or even facts to combat the widespread misunderstanding associated between the coronavirus and China.
In actuality, the coronavirus is in no way the fault of Chinese people, it merely originated in Wuhan, China, but it is really a disease most commonly found in bats and camels that has evolved to be contracted and spread among humans.
As a campus that has a significant Chinese student population—more than 100 students in Fall 2019, according to Institutional Effectiveness—and located in the center of Chicago, where cases have already been detected, Columbia has a responsibility to counter this narrative.
As reported Monday, Feb. 17 by the Chronicle, several Columbia students have felt discriminated against in the city, with one student recalling an incident on the train when a man covered his mouth when he saw her.
The college cannot use email announcements and eggshell-colored paint to cover up larger issues of discrimination on campus and the surrounding area. Part of touting its progressive diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is going the extra mile rather than doing the bare minimum.
What should have been done in the 2018 swastika case and what could be done in 2020’s coronavirus case is campus-wide educational forums to explicitly address discrimination, in this case on destigmatizing the coronavirus and reactions stemming from it. Additionally, professors should be required to hand out literature or have in-class discussions on recognizing and combating cognitive bias when it comes to the coronavirus, specifically. Student-led talks and workshops can also be a method, holding events in conjunction with the Student Diversity and Inclusion Office as a place for students who feel discriminated against to feel safe and be supported by fellow students. Finally, the college could make good on its activist image by holding a campus-wide initiative to send care kits, including medical masks and gloves, to those who need it worldwide, where more than 60,000 have been diagnosed and 1,300 people have died.
College campuses are not only a place for students to learn their crafts, they are also hubs for educating the next generation of active citizens and moral people. Continually having conversations to bring factual awareness and knowledge on national issues should be a reflex, not something that needs to be advocated for by the student body.