The University of Cincinnati on Thursday said it was looking into allegations that an instructor used the phrase “chinese virus” in an email to a student, a phrase often used by President Trump that critics have decried as racist.
Evan Sotzing, whom the Cincinnati Enquirer identified as a third-year engineering student, tweeted about the message.
“My girlfriend tested positive for COVID and the University of Cincinnati’s Health Department instructed me to not attend my in-person lab,” Sotzing said in his tweet.
“Not only did my professor give me a zero for not going, but this was his response,” Sotzing wrote, sharing an image of what appears to be an email from John Ucker, an adjunct instructor, with the reply, “For students testing positive for the chinese virus, I will give no grade.”
By late Friday, the student’s tweet had been reposted 31,000 times.
The university, Sotzing and Ucker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The 20-year-old student told the Enquirer that he objected to being punished for following coronavirus guidelines and called the language in the email “racist” and “completely unacceptable.”
“It has no place in this country and it contributes to Asian xenophobia,” Sotzing said, adding that he believes Ucker should apologize.
John Weidner, dean of the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, told CNN he assured the student he would investigate the incident.
“These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling,” he said. “We know we can better protect and care for all when we speak about covid-19 with both accuracy and empathy — something we should all strive for.”
Marietta Vazquez, vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion for pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, wrote in March that xenophobic comments carry the potential for debilitating effects.
“This behavior, and the stigma associated with referring to an illness in a way that deliberately creates unconscious (or conscious) bias, can keep people from getting care they may desperately need to get better and prevent others from getting sick,” Vazquez said. “When faced with this type of constant, heightened discrimination our friends, neighbors and colleagues of Asian-decent can feel uncomfortable in places they should feel welcome, included, and safe.”