Addressing COVID-19 Related Bias & Discrimination

As information about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to emerge, GW’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement remains committed to supporting a welcoming and inclusive campus community.

Reports on the spread of COVID-19 infections around the country and globally are a source of stress and concern for many, but it’s critical that we pause and reflect on how our words and reactions affect others during this global health crisis. Now more than ever, it’s important for all members of the GW community to treat one another with care and dignity. All students, faculty and staff should be treated with respect regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or background. We are aware of and are responding to reports of bias-related behavior. We will thoroughly review any reports of bias and address them appropriately.

Fear and anxiety may contribute to broad generalizations and assumptions about China and people from other Asian countries. Historically, viral outbreaks that have reportedly originated in other countries have fostered biased perspectives about people assumed to be from those regions (or people who physically resemble them). For example, panic about Ebola in 2014 led to discrimination against Africans and African Americans, and the 2003 SARS epidemic contributed to widespread stigmatization of Chinese communities and other Asian Americans. Classifying all Asian people as dangerous or sick, or making assumptions about a person's nationality based on their physical features reinforces long-standing histories of xenophobia and racism, whether intentional or not.

Given the diversity of our campus community, we would like to offer the following tips for community care even as the coronavirus continues to dominate our thoughts and the news cycle.

Asian and Asian American—especially Chinese and Chinese American—students, faculty, and staff are valued members of the GW community. If you have experienced bias or discrimination, please consider the following:

  • Recognize that Anti-Asian xenophobia and racism may negatively affect your physical and mental health. Stomachaches, backaches and headaches are common responses to discrimination. Additionally, you may experience difficulty concentrating, worry about your safety, decreased self-esteem, irritability with others and temporary lack of interest in your day-to-day activities. It is OK to seek medical or mental health care as needed.
  • Connect with those you trust. Social support is critical, and expressing concern about how you are being affected can be clarifying and energizing.
  • Seek assistance from campus departments including ODECE, International Student Services, the Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC), and the Counseling Center.
  • Report acts of discrimination to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Office.
  • Contact GWPD immediately at (202) 994-6111 if you have an immediate concern for your safety.

If you find that you encounter your own feelings of hostility or witness others feeling or acting on hostility, please consider the following:

  • Resist the tendency to make broad generalizations about people. Uncertainty about the coronavirus may lead to anxiety and fear. Harmful behaviors can occur when anxiety and fear are projected onto entire social groups. Such behavior is harmful to the well-being of targeted individuals and does not protect anyone from the coronavirus.
  • Educate yourself and maintain perspective. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the World Health Organization (WHO) have cautioned the public about discriminating and assuming that Asians are more likely to have the virus. At the same time, some people are assuming that Asian individuals wearing masks is an indicator of illness. Wearing masks in some Asian communities can serve diverse functions such as preventing the spread of illness, protecting the wearer from illness (e.g., flu), and limiting the intake of pollutants. Continue to educate yourself as this public health issue evolves.
  • Treat community members with care and empathy. Rather than treating someone with suspicion or contempt, ask them how they are feeling and whether they might need assistance getting medical support. Also, recognize that trying to engage a person who is worried about family or friends could have unintended emotional consequences. To minimize the possibility of upsetting someone, ask permission before starting a conversation about the coronavirus.

The university encourages the GW community to continue to reference reliable sources for updates as our knowledge about COVID-19 develops. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance on travel and the viruses spread. As campus information about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to emerge, GW’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement remains committed to supporting a welcoming and inclusive campus community.