DISCLAIMER: This article discusses sensitive and potentially upsetting current affairs.
In the wake of the recent fatalities and increasing virulence of the Wuhan coronavirus (recently dubbed ‘Covid-19’ by the World Health Organisation), reports of racial abuse towards Asian students studying at Southampton has university chiefs ‘extremely concerned‘.
An anti-discrimination campaign has been launched by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) in the SUSU building.
Local police forces have received reports of a ‘small number of incidents‘ linked to speculation about coronavirus across Southampton and Portsmouth. In one alleged incident, a University of Southampton student reportedly had a stone thrown at him in the city centre, while another student wearing a face mask was reportedly called a ‘virus‘ as she walked home. A staff member at a Chinese restaurant in Southampton was also said to have been harassed by a man who cited the coronavirus.
Several posts about international students from Asia on anonymous-posting Facebook page Crushampton have also been accused of abject racism.
Abuse towards Chinese students has also been spotted on social media; many have now stated that they are afraid to wear face masks in public for fear of attracting attention. The practice of wearing face masks is common across the East Asia region, where the local air quality (especially in urban areas) is often sub-optimal. Furthermore, some types of face masks are thought to reduce the spread and incidence of diseases such as the coronavirus by filtering air particles and reducing wearers’ exposure to splashes and sprays.
The current situation has prompted Southampton CSSA students to hit back with their ‘I am not a virus, I am a human‘ campaign, and their posters have been displayed in businesses along Burgess Road (between Highfield campus and Glen Eyre halls of residence), as well as in the heavily student-populated Portswood.
A university spokesperson has stated:
We have not had any reports of incidents on campus but we do not tolerate any form of racism and would take action as a matter of urgency on any such behaviour. We would urge staff and students to come forward if they are aware of any racist incidents taking place. We are proud of Southampton’s culturally diverse history which is an important part of our city’s identity.
We wish to reaffirm that any students or staff who experience a racist incident can confidently report it to the university with the expectation that it will be investigated and appropriate actions taken; this may include referring the incident to the police.
Hampshire police added:
Any crime perpetuated through ignorance, prejudice or hate is unacceptable. We are working with our partners and the local Chinese communities and we would encourage everyone to report incidents to us either by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.
Speaking with a CSSA member about recent events, she recalled that several of her peers have been subjected to racial abuse at Westquay from multiple people of all ages. She wants the message of this article to emphasise the fact that Chinese students are ordinary people too; being made to feel unsafe or unwelcome by complete strangers is both hurtful and unfair given that, in the words of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong:
[The virus] does not check your passport before entering your body. [The outbreak] is a problem that all countries must work together to solve.
To all Chinese students studying at Southampton who are upset or worried about the virus outbreak and racism, CSSA directs a single statement: ‘You will be OK‘.
If you or someone you know has recently experienced abuse or discrimination while at the University, please refer to SUSU’s Report & Support procedures