USG releases statement criticizing response to virus

Sens. Emily Johnson and Angela Chuang discussed the rise in offensive memes following the coronavirus scare at Tuesday’s USG meeting. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

The Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, International Student Assembly and Undergraduate Student Government criticized the discrimination toward Asian and Asian American students that has risen in response to the coronavirus scare in a letter sent to the student body Friday. The letter was a response to a Monday incident where The Lorenzo sent an erroneous email that reported a resident  contracted the disease. 

“With the recent spread of misinformation and distress about the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, we want to send a message … to support the rights of students to live, study and participate at USC without fear of discrimination based on their national origin, race, ethnicity, or travel history,” the letter read. 

The letter was co-signed by 26 other student organizations including the Chinese American Student Association and the Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment. It was written by ISA Executive Director Jina Hur and APASA Executive Director Michelle Phan. 

“We’ve had a couple peers talk to us about the discrimination that they felt,” Phan said. “It’s not only a scare on campus but they’re scared for their own [family in Wuhan] as well. The fact that they’ve been experiencing discriminatory remarks that make them feel uncomfortable, they just kind of felt no longer safe on their own campus.”

Memes and false information spread on social media following the Monday incident, including on the USC memes pages and in a Latinx group chat. The xenophobic memes specifically targeted international Asian and Asian American communities on campus. 

Melody Yao, a sophomore majoring in psychology and economics-mathematics, said she hasn’t faced any discrimination in person but that she has been affected by the student-made memes as well as students calling it the “Chinese virus.”

“Some people just started making really stupid memes,” Yao said. “They think they’re funny but not necessarily. I get that some people are trying to lighten up the mood, but I think they’re doing it regardless of how other groups of people will feel looking at those memes.”

Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said that discriminatory comments on the illness are problematic and concerning as they spread misinformation about the Chinese community. 

“We’re very concerned that we’re hearing that students from China or students from the Wuhan province are being targeted,” Van Orman said. “It’s very easy to try to kind of point fingers at a group of people or individuals and think that if we just keep them away that somehow we’ll all be safe, and that’s really dangerous and discriminatory.”

Although Hur has avoided the offensive memes, she said this dialogue continues to marginalize the Asian and Asian American community with false stereotypes attached to how the virus originated in China. 

“I know there’s dialogue going around that people are saying that the coronavirus started because the Chinese people eat bats and that they deserve it because they’re gross and barbaric and they brought that upon themselves,” Hur said. 

The letter also states the importance of reporting any discrimination students face at the University to the USC Office of Equity and Diversity and the Bias Reporting System. It called for the University to reaffirm its letter and send out an official statement to stand in solidarity with students who have been marginalized because of  misinformation about the coronavirus. 

“I feel like during times like this they address the logistical things like take care of your health but [they] don’t really address the adversity of certain communities that are particularly affected,” Phan said. 

The coronavirus incident was also addressed at a USG meeting Tuesday where USG Sen. Angela Chuang asked those in attendance to be aware of the false information spreading online targeting Asian students. 

“I want to remind everyone and encourage everyone to be mindful about what you’re sharing … on social media because a lot of these posts are very anti-Asian,” Chuang said. “Our international student population and our Asian American student population are being affected by this because [we’re worried about our] relatives back in Asia.”

USG President Trenton Stone met with Vice President for Student Affairs Winston Crisp to receive approval to send the letter University-wide. According to Stone, various professors and University officials on campus, including Crisp, are aware of the offensive comments made by students.

[The University] definitely recognize this as an issue … so I know that they plan to make sure that language is included in future [coronavirus updates].”

The University was unable to respond in time for publication but sent a University-wide memo Tuesday affirming the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health statement that individuals should not be excluded based on their country of origin, race or recent travel in China. 

“There is no immediate threat to the general public,” the LADPH statement read. “No special precautions are required, and people should not be excluded from activities based on their race, country of origin, or recent travel if they do not have symptoms of respiratory illness.”

Stone also reiterated the LADPH statement and said that each student should be aware of what they post on social media. 

“Just because the coronavirus originated somewhere, it doesn’t mean we need to be lumping identities and national origins together and having fear of vast groups of people,” Stone said. “I encourage everyone to continue to be cautious in what they say and what they do, and how they view people who may not be similar to them.”