Coronavirus and Racism on Campus
Columbia University’s Office of Student Life stated in an email to the community on January 3 that it prioritizes “treating all in our shared community with respect and recognizing the dignity and humanity of each individual here.” However, recent anti-Chinese messages in Butler Library and the School of Social Work, where the message “Fuck Chinese” was written in a bathroom stall, demonstrates that Columbia University continues to foster an environment in which racism can thrive. This recalls Columbia’s long history of responding to racism with lukewarm gestures of admonishment or not responding at all.
These incidents take place in an environment of rising xenophobia, including the Trump administration’s travel ban on all incoming travel from China for foreign nationals—a policy that the ACLU notes “flies in the face of considerable evidence that travel bans and quarantines can do more harm than good,” and flouts WHO best practices. This ban has led to significant delays in students returning to their work and academic responsibilities. We appreciate all of the individual university staff who have supported students at this difficult time. However, as an institution, rather than supporting affected students in good faith, Columbia University has chosen to implement dehumanizing and confusing policies.
Some students who have returned to campus from China have actively chosen to self-quarantine, which can often be a difficult and humiliating experience. As a result, they have generally missed classes and work for a fourteen-day period. These students should receive support, rather than inappropriate threats of discipline, as in the case of at least one Barnard student.
Given this, we demand that the university not just condemn on-campus anti-Chinese racism but actually support students who have been affected both by the novel coronavirus outbreak and the racist response to it. We demand concrete measures to support affected students, including:
- An explicit condemnation of on-campus racism (including the above-mentioned incidents)
- Reimbursement of costs associated with self-quarantine, and proper, free food delivery
- Guaranteed arrangements to assist in completion of academic responsibilities, such as remote learning, recorded lectures, and alternative assessment options
- Guaranteed arrangements to assist in the completion of work-related responsibilities, such as the option of remote work, including from abroad
- Counseling or other forms of social and emotional support in the language of choice, with the option of remote access, including from abroad
- No penalties, administrative or financial, of any kind
- An emergency fund for additional related costs
- The option of deferral of studies, including tuition refunds (included on a pro-rated basis for weeks missed due to university policies) where applicable
- Maintenance of enrollment, employment, and immigration status in all cases
Additionally, we demand that the university immediately accept the Graduate Workers of Columbia’s proposed International Student Worker Rights article in our contract negotiations. This article protects against exactly situations such abuses of power. As stated on our website, our position is that SAs unable to return to the U.S. due to immigration issues may perform duties outside of the U.S. We also propose that CU establish itself as a sanctuary campus, reimburse costs of legal assistance and immigration fees related to admission to the program, and provide affordable housing and appropriate tax/visa assistance for international workers.
This is an extremely difficult moment for many student workers. For some it is a matter of life and death. At this time, what we need is solidarity, not suspicion. Columbia University is failing its students. Do better.