UC Berkeley health center apologizes for calling xenophobia a 'common' reaction to coronavirus

The health services center at the University of California, Berkeley, apologized for mentioning xenophobia as one of the "common reactions" to coronavirus fears. (Photo: Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The University of California at Berkeley apologized for an Instagram post about the coronavirus, which some say “normalized” xenophobia toward Asian people.

“We apologize for our recent post on managing anxiety around Coronavirus,” read the Thursday apology, posted to the social media accounts of the university health service’s Tang Center. “We regret any misunderstanding it may have caused and have updated the language in our materials.” The updated materials relate to a flier posted to the school’s website.

A university spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “The post was taken down Thursday. We regret any misunderstanding it may have caused.”

The original social media post was deleted, but a screenshot read, “Please recognize that experiencing any of these can be normal reactions and that over the next few days or weeks, you may experience periods of,” followed by a list of reactions including “anxiety,” “helplessness,” “difficulty concentrating,” “anger,” and “xenophobia (fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings).”

The novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, is a potentially-fatal strain previously unidentified in humans that has the potential to cause respiratory problems ranging from fever and coughing to pneumonia. So far, 98 cases in 18 countries outside China have been detected, reported The United Nations, leading the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday. And on Friday, the White House announced that U.S. citizens returning home from Hubei Province, China, in the previous 14 days will undergo up to two weeks of mandatory quarantine, while U.S. foreign nationals “who pose a risk of transmitting the 2019 novel coronavirus” will be temporarily suspended from entering the country (excluding immediate family members of both U.S. citizens or permanent residents).

Several people reacted to the health center’s coronavirus post. Among them was a molecular virologist at the University of California at San Francisco, who earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is really, truly unacceptable,” wrote Dustin R. Glasner, PhD, who wasn't immediately available to respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. “Stop normalizing racism. It is not normal, and racist reactions to the current coronavirus outbreak are NOT OKAY.”

Others tweeted, “There’s no ‘may’ here! There shouldn’t have been any implication that xenophobia is acceptable” and “This is not how you apologize.”

Noor Alanizi, a senior at UC Berkeley, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “The Tang center's comment assimilates ideologies and mental health, thereby normalizing racism and creating misunderstandings about mental health. To reference xenophobic and guilty feelings in a comment about ‘normal’ reactions is to be complicit in racist processes by validating the 'othering' of people from Asia.”

Jason Dong, a freshman student at UC Berkeley, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that while the post was “poorly worded,” the school likely did not mean to convey the wrong message. “I personally haven’t experienced any xenophobia directed towards my friends and I,” he says. “I did not feel offended by the post. However, I can understand why others may take the post more seriously as they may have experienced poor treatment because of the recent outbreaks.”

Dong adds that most people he’s spoken to feel the university did not intend to normalize xenophobia “and simply made a mistake.” He adds that there’s a strong awareness of the coronavirus on campus and many are wearing masks.

And Victoria Mei Brendel, a freshman at UC Berkeley who grew up in both Beijing and Shanghai, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Diversity is celebrated at this school, so to see them essentially normalizing the idea of being afraid of Asian-Americans on campus is really shocking.” Brendel says the post “calls into question who is running the social media post or [health services] department. A Chinese-American person would never have let that slide.”

According to the New York Times, xenophobia has been a concern in relation to coronavirus. The outlet noted the popularity of the Twitter hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan, and in Singapore, a petition to ban Chinese people from entering the country is being passed around.

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