“Fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma which may arise when people associate a specific illness with a population or nationality, despite the fact that not everyone in that population is at increased risk of having the illness. This virus knows no geopolitical boundaries.” – American College Health Association, 2020

Be aware of biases.

This includes responding to xenophobia and microaggressions. In many countries, wearing surgical masks in public is a social norm, especially during cold and flu season. As such, campuses should keep in mind that the wearing of a mask by a community member should not be construed as a sign of infectiousness or an invitation for ridicule or avoidance.

People of Asian descent, including Chinese Americans, are not more likely to get COVID-19 than any other American. Help stop fear by letting people know that being of Asian descent does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19.” – Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020

Xenophobia: the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. As it pertains to COVID-19, mounting xenophobic acts are being documented worldwide, including in the United States, predominantly directed at people of Chinese or Asian heritage or falsely perceived to be of Chinese or Asian heritage.

Microaggressions: everyday derogations, slights, and invalidations that are often delivered to people of minority or marginalized backgrounds.

What could this look like with COVID-19?

  • Barring a person’s access to public spaces, such as classrooms, restaurants, or public transportation, on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
  • Associating one disease with certain races, ethnicities, or countries of origin.
  • People of certain races or ethnicities may be treated differently (i.e., glared at, physically distanced from) in a public space, such as on buses, in classrooms, in shopping malls, or in grocery stores. When confronted, some people may say, “I wasn’t racist. I just didn’t want to get sick.”
  • When people of certain races or ethnicities are being attacked in public, some witnesses and bystanders may be hesitant to intervene.
  • Some parents may not let their kids play with other kids of certain races or ethnicities.
  • Associating or identifying the virus only with pictures, images, or language directed towards people of a certain race or ethnicity.
  • Excluding, avoiding, or ignoring people of certain races or ethnicities. 
  • Sharing hurtful jokes and memes.
  • Comments such as “Get out of here. Go back to your country.”
  • People of certain races or ethnicities being called “corona.”
  • Acts of violence or hostility.

How to Respond?

  • Xenophobia and microaggressions are more than jokes and do more than hurt feelings. They can contribute to increased stress, guilt, isolation, and feelings of anxiety and depression for individuals who are already experiencing higher levels of stress.
  • Focus on hygiene and the actual virus as opposed to race or ethnicity.
  • Be mindful of perpetuating online content xenophobic messages, such as memes or stories. 
  • Ask yourself, if you respond, could your physical safety be in danger? If you have concern about your safety, you don’t have to confront the other person at the scene. Instead, you can record what happened using your phone and report it to the school later.

If you’re experiencing any of these, here are some resources for support:

For updated information on COVID-19, here are some links with information about the condition and to dispel myths and misinformation:

Written by: UHC CAPS