UC Berkeley faces backlash following Tang Center Instagram post on coronavirus

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As news of the coronavirus outbreak develops, an Instagram post by the University Health Services Tang Center faced backlash, with many feeling that the post condoned xenophobia.

On Thursday, the Tang Center released a post listing “common reactions” to news of the coronavirus outbreak, including anxiety, helplessness, social withdrawal and xenophobia. According to the post, these reactions can be normal.

“Confused and honestly very angry about this Instagram post from an official @UCBerkeley Instagram account,” said Adrienne Shih, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former Daily Californian reporter, on Twitter. “When is xenophobia ever a ‘normal reaction’?”

The Tang Center rescinded the post on Thursday, and University Health Services, or UHS, “sincerely (apologizes) for the harm caused,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

ASUC Senator Evina Wang described the post as “totally unacceptable” for a campus that aims to promote diversity, adding that while she is glad the post has been taken down, the campus administration should do more to discourage discrimination and provide support for Asian and Chinese international students.

Asian and Chinese international students on campus are experiencing rising distrust and discrimination from their peers, which, according to Wang, includes profiling based on race or nationality. She added that one of her acquaintances was told by a driver to leave a public bus because he was Chinese, even though he was wearing a mask.

“A lot of people are in a state of anxiety about their family members who are still in places (where coronavirus is spreading),” Wang said. “Chinese and Asian international students are the ones suffering from this the most. … Campus should promote inclusion, not xenophobia.”

As of Sunday, there have been 14,411 reported cases of coronavirus in China and 304 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, which recently declared coronavirus a global health emergency. Outside of China there have been 146 cases and one death. In the United States, there have been nine cases, none of which have been fatal.

The first two coronavirus cases in the Bay Area were reported in Santa Clara on Friday and Sunday. According to a press release from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, a man traveled to Wuhan, China and became sick after returning to Santa Clara. He remained at home, except to seek medical care, once he noticed symptoms, and the Public Health Department reported that there is no evidence of person-to-person spread of the virus. The second case was recorded after a woman arrived from China to visit family in the U.S. when she became ill. Like the first case, she stayed at home after becoming ill and her family members have been isolated to prevent further spread of the virus.

“We understand that this news may be concerning, but based on what we know today, the risk to residents of our community remains low,” said Sara Cody, director of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, in a press release. “This news is not unexpected. Santa Clara County has the largest population in the Bay Area, and many of our residents travel for both personal and business reasons.”

Travelers coming through San Francisco International and other airports have been monitored since mid-January, and public health workers have been working closely with health care providers to prepare for potential cases of coronavirus, according to a city of Berkeley press release.

To prepare for any possible cases on campus, UHS officials have set up screening procedures for individuals who may come to the Tang Center exhibiting symptoms, according to a campuswide email.

UC President Janet Napolitano also issued a directive Friday requiring that the UC system limits nonessential travel to China in accordance with the State Department’s “do not travel” advisory.

Campus administration has also sent out regular emails updating students on the coronavirus outbreak and reminding the campus community that the risk to the United States is low.

“Everyone should be aware that the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the flu or other respiratory viruses is to take precautions such as washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” Gilmore said in an email. “We encourage the campus community to visit the UHS advisory page for the latest information about the coronavirus.”

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article did not disclose that Adrienne Shih is a former Daily Californian staff member.