Coronavirus: Colleges working to prevent spread of infection and xenophobia

As the number of people affected by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) increases, college administrators are deliberating how to keep their campuses healthy, and how to ensure that international students from China—the virus’s country of origin—feel welcome at school. 

Densely populated living and dining spaces like dorms can be especially conducive to the spread of illness. Moreover, China is the largest source of international students at U.S. colleges and universities, Politico reports. “Colleges and universities are very much on the front line of [infectious outbreaks] because of our role as global institutions,” Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer at USC, told Reuters. “The challenge is making sure that we are being prudent without overstating the risk.” 

Despite student ‘hysteria,’ Arizona State continues classes 

Arizona State University (ASU) recently announced that it had confirmed a case of the Wuhan coronavirus in its community. One freshman on campus later told Business Insider of “hysteria” among students fearful of catching the virus. A petition to cancel classes gained 20,000 signatures.

Asian and Asian American students have reported “jokes, stares, and isolation” from their classmates, writes The State Press. One ASU student, who is Vietnamese, told Business Insider that her classmates are reluctant to sit near her. “I cough in class and everybody looks at me,” she said. “I’m paranoid of coughing.” 

“There is a real concern among the Chinese community, among the Asian community, about being discriminated [against], being avoided not just on the university campus but in the American mainstream, other public spaces as well,” Yingyi Ma, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Administrators are fielding student concerns but setting their own guidelines. The Hill reports that ASU isolated the infected person; notified parents, faculty, and students that the person does not live on campus; and continued classes and campus events as normal. As reported by USA Today, “Jay Thorne, a university spokesman, said it was not the university’s intent to appear callous to people’s concerns but rather to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The university also expressed its support for Chinese students, writing in a statement that “we greatly value our student population from China and want them to feel at home in the ASU community, as [we] do for students from any other country.”

College leadership champions inclusivity

Jenn Fang—founder of a blog dedicated to Asian American feminism, pop culture, and politics—called on college administrators to champion inclusivity on campuses to counter xenophobia and discriminatory social media content. “Diseases don’t discriminate along racial lines—but too often people do,” Fang wrote in The Washington Post

Kent Syverud, chancellor at Syracuse University, emailed the Syracuse student body calling for empathy and inclusion. “Many in the global Asian community are being unjustly exposed to added scrutiny simply because of their national origin,” he wrote. “Regardless of their homeland, they are an integral part of our Orange community, and your extra kindness and effort for them right now are essential.”

Schools take steps to minimize risk

To minimize the virus’s introduction to and spread on campus, institutions are telling community members how to take precautions, and some have restricted travel and gatherings. Boston University postponed a February study abroad trip to Shanghai. Georgetown University has temporarily suspended study abroad programs and travel to China, writes The Hoya. Miami University in Ohio postponed basketball games.

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville asked six students who had recently been in Wuhan to self-monitor their temperatures, and moved two students from Wuhan to international student dorms, reports the Chicago Tribune. Hundreds of students across the country have visited student health services for testing.

In addition, schools like the University of Southern California are opening up more counseling appointments for students experiencing anxiety and worry for family members in China.

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