OPINION: Xenophobia and prejudice toward international students over coronavirus is unacceptable

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Farzaneh Hall

The College of International Studies in Farzaneh Hall on campus Nov. 19, 2019.

Mitchell Smith is the interim dean for the David L. Boren College of International Studies, while Rebecca Cruise is the college's associate dean for students.

As concerns about COVID-19 mounted during the past week, a local news channel carried an interview with an OU student who expressed concern about the virus hitting the OU campus after a period of online classes. The fear expressed in the quotation was that "We have a lot of international students, if they come back on campus and it breaks out who knows what will happen." All of us at OU are working hard to prevent the spread of the virus, and we hope the campus and surrounding Norman community are spared. As representatives of the College of International Studies and advocates for international students at OU, we are especially concerned, though, with the interpretation of the sentiment expressed in this quotation. 

It is true that international students make their US homes at OU, and most of these students will remain on or return to campus after spring break even with classes taking place in an online format. That makes these students vulnerable, and we hope this is the perspective expressed in the quotation. But let us be clear: international students studying at OU are in no way the source of the virus or responsible for its spread. On the contrary, international students, staff and faculty are an integral part of the OU community and should be made to feel welcome and safe here.

Since knowledge of the coronavirus began to emerge, there have been those who have responded with xenophobic comments and hateful actions — first targeted against Asian, or Asian-presenting individuals, and more recently toward other groups. Such behavior is unacceptable and abetted by ignorance of the fact that COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Sentiments encouraging this type of behavior certainly should not be perpetuated in the media.

Fortunately, University of Oklahoma administrators recognize that international students are part of our community. Appropriately, while classes will take place online for the two weeks after spring break, housing, counseling, dining and other services will remain available to international students and others for whom the OU campus is their local home. We in the College of International Studies support all of these students, and we will always be at the forefront of the university's effort to ensure their well-being.

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