Coronavirus must not overcome UC Berkeley’s cultural pluralism

Illustration of line of people in front of virus
Armaan Mumtaz/Staff

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Ever since UC Berkeley University Health Services made a social media post pointing out common reactions to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, many discussions regarding foreigners on campus, especially from China, have arisen.

As a disclaimer, I must say that I am simply a witness. I want to testify in favor of UC Berkeley staff and in support of UC Berkeley students and affiliates, as well as to aid my Chinese peers.

As a Brazilian visiting scholar, I must first address the path that has led me to this testimonial. Being a Latin American researcher, before arriving at UC Berkeley, I wondered what my reception by the American students and academics would be. I was a bit apprehensive, as some people say that Americans are not hospitable.

What a great surprise! It could not have been better — I could not have been more well-received. I have been embraced by this community, from my professors to my colleagues, and it is evident that my welcoming experience was not unique. We all can perceive how caring this campus is.

I am from Brazil, a country renowned for its warm hospitality; therefore, feeling this sensation here is even more unexpected and remarkable. Likewise, my home country is a big blend of cultures. Besides the Portuguese colonization, we had many waves of immigration from different continents and countries. My stay here as a visiting scholar has allowed me to enjoy and share experiences with students and researchers from many different countries in a very positive and productive environment. I feel at home and love this culturally blended, global home.

Berkeley International Office data reveals that between postdoctoral scholars, lecturers, visiting scholars and visiting students, there are about 10,000 people from 92 different countries here on campus. An international intellectual gathering in service of academic excellence most definitely generates a very fulfilling atmosphere. Without a doubt, UC Berkeley has an amazing academic community that has achieved academic glory, as well as a world-renowned status as one of the best universities. I firmly believe that this blend of cultures is one of the reasons for UC Berkeley’s overwhelming success.

COVID-19 infecting the world has created some tension, however. Recent news reports show that there are already more than 65,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,500 related deaths. Moreover, COVID-19 has reached Europe, the United States and Africa — also with fatality cases, as France recently confirmed. For this reason, it is understandable that peoples’ fears are growing.

I have unfortunately perceived many of my Asian friends, in particular those from China, feeling apprehension being on campus and getting along with other students because of their nationality. I have learned so much from them during these months — their pain is my pain, and it must be our pain.

We must continue to embrace our colleagues and remain conscious that nobody is to blame for this or any epidemic. I strongly hope that COVID-19 will soon be contained and that it stops hurting so many people. We must recognize, however, that we have had many epidemics in history and will have many more. Since 430 B.C., humanity has survived the Plague of Athens, the recent Ebola epidemic (West Africa, 2013-16), the Plague of Justinian (541–42), the Black Death (peaking in Europe from 1347-51), the Spanish flu (1918-20) and countless other epidemics. As a matter of fact, they can arise anywhere and anytime.

Therefore, as a witness of all the positive vibrations in this campus and community, I genuinely expect that UC Berkeley will continue to be a multicultural center of excellence, characterized by mutual respect and support. We must remain alert, so as to not let an unfortunate virus spread panic, misbehavior or discrimination in our community. Our plurality is one of our major strengths, leading not only to an enriching academic experience but also to one that is socially and culturally unique.

In conclusion, I would like to end my testimonial expressing my gratitude and honor in being part of UC Berkeley. Thank you all, Golden Bears, for always standing against all kinds of hate and for avoiding how COVID-19 spreads disease in addition to prejudices.

Anderson de Paiva Gabriel is a Brazilian visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Law, researching American criminal procedure, plea bargaining and pragmatism.