Student group: Cornell's coronavirus concerns stem from ‘xenophobic perceptions of Asian people’

A Cornell University student group declared on Tuesday that the school is “buying into Sinophobic rhetoric” and “racist fear mongering” because it sent a mass email about the coronavirus.

The university recently sent out a public health update email to students and staff about a potential coronavirus case on campus, prompting Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine to condemn the prestigious institution.

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“Cornell administration sent out a so-called public health update claiming that one of its students ‘presented symptoms that met criteria for testing for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.'The student is currently undergoing treatment and we wish them a speedy recovery. It remains a complete mystery to us, however, why Cornell thought it appropriate to publicly announce these facts via mass email,” the group wrote in a scathing Facebook post.

The pro-Palestine student group complained that the Office of Student and Campus Life for Health and Wellbeing sent out multiple emails related to the Coronavirus but never emailed students about the “U.S, seasonal flu,” which is also impacting students.

“Why then, the disproportionate focus on this particular disease and its country of origin? In a time when the people of China are facing this disease head-on, we encourage an attitude of internationalist cooperation as opposed to divisive fear -- instead of buying into Sinophobic rhetoric about the origin and spread of the Coronavirus, we stand in support of a global community committed to fighting this disease,” the group wrote. “The disproportionate public response to Coronavirus would not have occurred without pre-existing xenophobic perceptions of Asian people, which have been legitimized by the nativist discourse around U.S-China relations.”

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The student group added that the premise “that those of Asian descent represent an existential threat to Western societies” is “steeped in white supremacy.”

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine urged people to stop “racist fear mongering” that is powered by the media.

“We must resist the impulse today to fan the flames of prejudice fueled by media sensationalism and misdirected fear. Even though Cornell may enthusiastically participate in this racist fear mongering, it doesn’t mean that we must do so as well,” the group wrote. “We encourage the Cornell and Ithaca community to reject this pathetic mass email and put our energies, instead, towards fighting these institutions that manufacture such crises in order to distract us from the ongoing crisis of capitalism.”

Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson told Fox News his university did the right thing by warning students about the coronavirus.

"The threat posed by a potential pandemic of Wuhan coronavirus is real, and being taken seriously by governments around the world, including in Asia. I applaud the Cornell administration for taking a proactive and caring approach," Jacobson said. "To see the administration demonized with false accusations of racism, xenophobia and 'white supremacy' is despicable."

Cornell University’s media relations department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine isn’t the only organization to link the coronavirus to xenophobia.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post urged readers who have “seen or experienced discrimination, racism or xenophobia connected to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic” to contact the liberal newspaper.

“As the coronavirus continues to spread, so do fears over rising prejudice,” Post community editor Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn wrote. “The Washington Post wants to hear your story.”