The Coronavirus pandemic is a global event affecting more than 25 countries. As you have read in recent campus messages from Dr. Albert Chang, medical director of the Student Health Center, there is still much that is unknown clinically about the novel virus. Knowledge is critical in informing how we respond, and it is for this reason that researchers – at UCI and around the world – are actively engaged in understanding and containing this novel virus.

Campus leaders, faculty experts, and student ambassadors are striving to share evidence-based best practices from the Centers for Disease Control, continually updating our coronavirus information resources; broadening our public health education campaign; and partnering with local and county public health agencies. We are living in this moment together.

Underlying the unknowns of the virus itself are assumptions and fears rooted in the human condition of coping with misinformation and the desire to protect one’s health. I explore these factors in the most recent episode of the UCI Podcast on inclusivity during challenging times.

What’s in a name?

As this pandemic has evolved over the past several weeks, so has the name and way in which we communicate about the novel Coronavirus. In its early days, the name of the city of Wuhan was used to describe the virus. The practice of associating a pathogen with a point of origin is shorthand for capturing a shifting and fast-moving process of discovery and transmission. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally adopted the acronym COVID-19. UCI has adopted this term. We will also use the term “Coronavirus” or “novel Coronavirus” in our communications.

What has come from this name change is an important lesson about the use of language in our multi-cultural world. Shorthand references to points of origin have unintentional cognitive impacts, such as triggering implicit biases and stereotypes. This practice can stigmatize an entire region. Among examples in the distant and recent past, include the “Spanish Flu” in the 20th century and Ebola (a tributary of the Congo River in Central Republic of Africa) in recent memory. These terms are not only inaccurate but also reinforce groundless fears and stereotypes about regions in the world, not to mention the people who inhabit them; and others who immigrated or travelled to from the affected areas.

Correcting Course

The WHO’s decision to adopt the acronym COVID-19 is an important step in focusing attention on the virus, and interrupting implicit assumptions and explicit stereotypes about the affected communities and individuals who travel to and from China. However, in the intervening time since news of the novel Coronavirus broke in January and WHO’s official naming of the virus this week, Chinese and Chinese American communities have felt the impact of both unintentional and intentional biases and discrimination.

It is all of our individual responsibility to help shift this sentiment against a group of people and engage in dialogue based on accurate information about the Coronavirus and reject stereotypes and prejudice, whether on-line or in public. It is not enough to expect equity for ourselves but fail to advocate on behalf of others; to support diversity without understanding the diverse communities that make up our community; to practice inclusion without confronting bias and prejudice; and honor free speech without using it for advancing inclusive excellence.

At UCI, each person matters. It’s a commitment that extends beyond our campus borders to communities near and far. As Dr. Martin Luther King famously wrote “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied by a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” By appreciating our diversity and practicing intentional inclusivity, we expand our individual capacity for intelligent empathy. Let us consider this insight in responding to global events in the local context.

Douglas M. Haynes.
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

 

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