Coronavirus and Xenophobia on Franklin & Marshall campus

Sojin Shin || Op-Eds Editor

 A new disease of any kind is scary. There is no vaccine to prevent it, and without proper facilities and medical support, the prognosis becomes significantly lower. The 2019 coronavirus is no exception. The disease has killed over 600 people in mainland China, and there is no cure for it as of now. Even though there are only eleven cases of the coronavirus in the U.S, all of them nonfatal so far, it is natural to be concerned and to be aware of the global danger.

Having said that, the atmosphere of awareness sometimes borders on aggression or outright xenophobia. Various news media sources, including The New York Times, report that many Asian Americans, most of whom have never set foot in Wuhan or mainland China, have experienced outcast or prejudice in recent days due to fear of the virus. Unfortunately, Franklin & Marshall College is no exception to this phenomenon. Only a week ago, a poster was put on the protest tree that read: “coronavirus is not an excuse for xenophobia.” Students report that other students and even a few faculty members have remarked or joked about the possibility of international students (particularly those from China) having the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

Still, what I want to discuss in the article is not the more obvious expressions of racism: direct insults, mean-spirited jokes about Chinese food culture, grafiti that says ‘Go Back home Chink.’ Rather, what I am concerned about is of a more subtle and internal reaction. It is the way that people slightly withdraw from a group of international students in D-hall, or the way people are evermore reluctant to invite Chinese international students to parties, or the suspicion that faculty members may be afraid of a student in fear of them possessing the virus. That is not to say this kind of rift has not existed before, but the division seems to have become more pronounced than it was previously. The disconnect between pre-existing groups, cliques, and people has turned into more of a heightened suspicion, a paranoia that pervades our society.  Schools, especially colleges, are a small model of society. This outbreak seems to have revealed the internal fragmentation of the student body and perhaps the faculty as well. 

While I understand the fear of diseases, I also think that it is a moment for our campus to take a pause. After all, this is a place where we learn to discern logical conclusions from immediate reactions of paranoia. It is a place where we learn to recognize our own prejudices, our pattern of thoughts, and modify the space for the better.  It is not impossible for practical safety measures and tolerance to coexist.  Let’s look at the issue of quarantines. Students who have flown after the 21st are quarantined for 14 days, which is generally accepted (albeit still controversial) as a legitimate safety measure. Petitioning to ban all Chinese international students to not attend classes (a joke I’ve heard in Dhall), however, would not fall within the same category. But above all, I hope that we can all have sympathy for the international students whose homes are threatened by the Coronavirus, rather than being alarmed at their sight.

Sophomore Sojin Shin is the Op-Eds Editor. Her email is sshin@fandm.edu

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