UC Berkeley student uses ‘xenophobic’ screen name in Data 8 Zoom lecture

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During a Data 8 Zoom lecture Monday, a student set their screen name to an offensive phrase referring to COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus.

The student’s screen name was written in Mandarin and translated to “Wuhan virus,” according to a Data 8 Piazza post. COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, but this phrase has been tied to an uptick in xenophobic reactions since the spread of the disease. Campus lecturer and Data 8 instructor Swupnil Sahai said language used to refer to the disease in classes must be carefully considered, given the impact it may have on students.     

“Xenophobia has no place on this campus and particularly in this class,” Sahai said. “Making your screen name the virus name is not helpful to anybody, regardless of how it was phrased. It’s just not constructive.”

After students noticed the screen name, Sahai said a few reached out to him asking that the incident be addressed. Sahai and his co-instructor Ramesh Sridharan posted a response on the class Piazza page, and Sahai added that students said they appreciated how they addressed the issue.

The portion of the recorded lecture that included the phrase has since been removed, according to Sahai. He added that he could not comment on the identity of the student or any disciplinary measures implemented.

Sahai said the World Health Organization released guidelines in 2015 that suggest diseases not be referred to by their place of origin. Despite some diseases in the past being named this way, Sahai said, that “doesn’t mean it’s right to continue the same naming scheme.”   

“In this time, we should just be supporting each other,” Sahai said.

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.