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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Bowman Library, Menlo College

DEI Committee Statement on Coronavirus Racism

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee would like to share the following statement in collaboration with Dr. Jodie Austin, Assistant Professor of English:

Menlo College prides itself in being an institution that welcomes community members from all around the globe. As such, we stand in solidarity with educators and students who condemn the racism and bigotry that so often emerges as a toxic byproduct of outbreak fears. Although disease outbreaks often disrupt the status quo of everyday functions, we would emphasize that epidemics are not an excuse for acting out of xenophobia, prejudice, or fear.

Concerns about racism in the wake of recent outbreak panic in the U.S. have been documented in the media. NBC recently reported on students expressing their concerns about "coronavirus-fueled racism" on college campuses. In January, UC Berkeley's own health services center deleted a recent Instagram post after being accused of normalizing xenophobia as a reaction to the outbreak. Apart from non-campus communities, San Francisco's historic Chinatown has apparently suffered a significant decrease in visitors in recent months (as reported by The Guardian).

Unfortunately, the link between racism and fears relating to disease in the U.S., especially in relation to Chinese/Chinese American communities, has a long and ugly history. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 represented a form of sanctioned bigotry against Chinese immigrants coming to the U.S., essentially giving license to publications like The Wasp to publish racist caricatures implying links between ethnic communities and disease. Much of this racist hostility targeted Asians in California specifically. Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University and a California governor, expressed his open resentment towards Asian immigrants (and his white supremacist views) in his 1862 inaugural address, in which he said: “There can be no doubt but that the presence of numbers among us of a degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and, to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration. It will afford me great pleasure to concur with the Legislature in any constitutional action, having for its object the repression of the immigration of the Asiatic races.”

Today, the rhetoric of disease and contamination often finds its way into news commentary and political statements about immigrant caravans, as observed by Adam Rogers in Wired Magazine. Racist and xenophobic rhetoric is not directed solely towards Asian Americans during epidemics; for this reason Menlo College’s DE&I Committee categorically denounces the behavior of those who would use medical emergencies to normalize discriminatory and racist behavior.

To this end, Professor Jodie Austin has teamed up with Dean Valeria Molteni and the Bowman Library staff to put together a suggested reading list for those who would like to learn more about the history of disease and xenophobia in the U.S. The Menlo community is fortunate to have a staff of librarians committed to providing knowledge, support, and delicious tea as a ward against panic. Although the list is currently a work in progress, our Menlo College reading list will be shared with our colleagues at other institutions. In this way, we hope to promote a consortium of learning dedicated to combating bigotry and learning from the past while reading some excellent books. This list features sources added to Jason Oliver Chang’s open source syllabus: “Treating Yellow Peril: Resources to Address Coronavirus Racism.”

This list is currently a work in progress, our Menlo College reading list will be shared with our colleagues at other institutions. In this way, we hope to promote a consortium of learning dedicated to combating bigotry and learning from the past while reading some excellent books. This list features sources added to Jason Oliver Chang’s open source syllabus: “Treating Yellow Peril: Resources to Address Coronavirus Racism.”

Official statements/COVID-19 updates

Sources on racism, the “yellow peril”, and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Sources on the history/perspectives of Asian American communities 

Sources on contagion scares and local history

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