As a local voice on diversity, I am reaching out to you in this time of crisis to offer my support as we deal with the reality of COVID-19. The last three weeks have been particularly challenging for our campus and community. The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 means we all are adjusting to a new world at school, work and home — and we have had to do it very quickly.
Please know we have teams across our community and at Weber State University that are working hard to deliver on all fronts for the long haul. As stress levels rise, our patience with the situation and with each other has been and will continue to be tested. Please don’t forget — we are in this together.
While this global pandemic is affecting all of us, some of us are impacted in more direct, hostile and overtly racist ways. To this end, I urge all people to actively dispel xenophobic misinformation that COVID-19 is linked to individuals of a specific ethnicity, race or national origin and to prioritize efforts in addressing the needs of marginalized populations while stamping out stigma, blame, prejudice, myths, rumors and hate.
While some of you might question my direction with this message, let me share that two Chinese students were sprayed with Lysol at a Cedar City Walmart and told to “Go home,” earlier last month. In our own community, a Chinese family was sworn at and told to “Go back to China,” when they were out in their own front yard. Another Chinese community member was running on one of Ogden’s beautiful trails when a woman picked up a stick, hit her and told her to “Go back to China.” The fear and hatred is real, and it is here.
Because we each have pre-existing mindsets, formed by our life experiences and philosophical point of view, we will all process the COVID-19 outbreak differently. Even with those differences, we are a part of a shared humanity. It is to this shared humanity that I call on you, members of our community, to respond to this crisis with unity and compassion. We can create a supportive climate of inclusion, respect and diversity. This is particularly poignant as we reflect during Holocaust Remembrance this spring. It is a startling reminder that we are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk and vulnerable.
During these challenging times, I embolden you to be empathetic: Put yourself in others’ shoes and consider how their perspective might be different from yours. Be mindful of your comments about who needs social distancing, vulnerable populations by age or ability, or assumptions about the virus based on race or country. Coronavirus threatens us all.
To help you think about ways to respond to this hate, I have turned to our friends at TeachingTolerance.Org for support. They have put together a wealth of information about how to handle racism, xenophobia and other forms of oppression. Teaching Tolerance recommends we do four things as we move through this pandemic.
First, when we hear xenophobic or racist statements, we should interrupt. Let the person know what they have said is important and requires you to pause and talk about racism before you talk about anything else. Next, question what was just stated. For example, ask, “Where did you get that information or why do you feel that way?” Third, educate people about the racism associated with coronavirus. Explain that it is no longer common to name a disease after its place of origin. We have had a long, negative history of associating diseases with specific groups of people. To that end, the name COVID-19 was selected to avoid repeating those mistakes.
Finally, encourage speaking up by being an echo of the good. Speak up, emphasize and amplify factual and supportive messages. Don’t let people think your silence is agreement with the negative.
What I am asking of you requires energy, willingness and compassion. It requires you to not only talk the talk of equality but also to walk the walk of equality when it is questioned or demonized. We do hard things all the time, so while this request may make you feel uncomfortable, in the end it may mean the difference to someone else’s safety.