Some Asian students at Arizona State University (ASU) claim they are being treated differently by the rest of the student body following confirmation of the nation’s fifth case of the deadly coronavirus at the school.
“I cough in class and everybody looks at me. I’m paranoid of coughing,” one freshman, who was not identified, told Business Insider. The same student told the outlet that the “social and cultural divide” between international students from China and the rest of the student body has become starker since the case was confirmed last weekend. As of 2018, there were more than 3,000 Chinese students at the university, according to one report.
The patient involved in the fifth case is a part of the ASU community, but it’s not clear if the individual, — who recently traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak — is a student, faculty or staff member. Officials noted the patient “does not live in university housing, is not severely ill and is currently in isolation to keep the illness from spreading.”
A senior at ASU who is Chinese but from Arizona claims other students have since “racially profiled” Asian students at the school, adding “people [kind of] look at me a second longer, I guess kind of questioning if I’m infected.”
Another freshman, identified only as Eric, told Business Insider that he’s more “paranoid” around other students following the confirmation, adding he has avoided shaking hands and hugging others.
"I guess I'll find out if more people will end up giving me looks or actively avoiding me just because of my East Asian appearance, despite having been born in the U.S. and [growing] up here," he said, noting he traveled to Beijing over winter break but “didn’t go near” Wuhan.
In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson for the university said it's important students from China feel welcome at the school.
"We greatly value our student population from China and want them to feel at home in the ASU community as [we] do for students from any other country," said the spokesperson.
The news comes after students at the school — more than 20,000 of them — signed a petition to cancel classes after the coronavirus case at ASU came to light. Their petition was denied by school officials.
"We have received many inquiries about university operations in light of this case. The university remains open and classes are not canceled," ASU Provost Mark Searle wrote in an email to the ASU community.
The outbreak has sickened more than 7,000 people and has been linked to at least 170 deaths. The number of cases confirmed in mainland China has now surpassed those that were sickened during a SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. However, the coronavirus death toll still remains lower than the 348 people in China who were killed by SARS.