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Xenophobia, Racism and COVID-19, April 1, 2020

Dear students, staff, faculty and alums:

In her February 7, 2020, letter about Smith’s response to COVID-19, President McCartney wrote, “At times when prejudice and racism threaten to divide us, we must bring even greater resolve to building community and supporting one another. Smith College stands by and with its Asian and Asian American community members and will continue to counter misinformation and bias about the coronavirus with information and education.”

In the interest of countering misinformation and bias, I remind all of us that calling the novel coronavirus the “Wuhan Virus” or “Chinese Virus” is xenophobic. The World Health Organization’s guidelines specifically advise against naming a disease after a city, region, country or population.

The correct name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is COVID-19, meaning the COrona VIrus Disease, which was first identified in 2019.

Language matters. Xenophobic names have been used to justify xenophobic and racist acts including physical and verbal attacks. If you would like to report a bias incident on Smith’s campus, follow this link. If you have an off-campus incident to report, see this page. For more information on the psychological consequences faced by Asians, Asian Americans and others associated wrongly with the xenophobic naming of COVID-19, see this interview by Sherry Wang '06. The Office for Equity and Inclusion has used its social media to amplify Professor Wang’s voice, as well as art and a townhall about anti-Asian racism.

Other groups, including healthcare workers and those who have recently traveled from countries with outbreaks, have also been targets of hate. We invite you to join with us in standing with them and remaining vigilant against hatred and division in any form.

In solidarity,

Floyd Cheung
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion