The University of Cincinnati is investigating a claim that one of its professors referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” after a student reported that he had to miss a class because he was in self-isolation.
Engineering student Evan Sotzing shared a screenshot of his instructor’s alleged comment on Twitter on Thursday. Sotzing says his girlfriend recently tested positive for COVID-19, so he got tested and went into a two-week self-isolation as per the university’s health guidelines. He told his instructor, John Ucker, that he’d have to miss a lab because of the safety measure.
“For students testing positive for the Chinese virus, I will give no grade,” Ucker responded in an email.
Sotzing, 20, says he tested negative for the virus on Sept. 4 but was still in the middle of a two-week quarantine period when the lab issue came up. He says he shared his test results with Ucker, who responded by giving him a “zero” on the lab assignment.
Sotzing forwarded the email to several news outlets, including Local 12 in Cincinnati, Ohio, after the tweet captured viral attention on Thursday. More than 122,000 people have liked his tweet and 27,000 have shared it.
“I was shocked at first that anyone in power, or a professor, would say that because of how xenophobic it is and how racist of a comment it is,” Sotzing told the news station.
“The school should take disciplinary actions against the professor because (his) actions completely violate the school’s values,” Sotzing told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Sotzing reported the incident to John Weidner, dean of the school’s engineering and science department.
Weidner explained in a statement on Friday that Ucker had not given Sotzing a zero on the lab. Instead, he had applied a “routine policy” that would leave that mark out of his final grade.
“Academic accommodations are necessary to safeguard the health and safety of our students, and faculty are encouraged to be flexible with attendance policies and other aspects supporting academic progress — particularly for students in isolation and quarantine,” Weidner said.
He also condemned the instructor’s use of the term “Chinese virus.”
“These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling,” Weidner wrote. “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.”
The term has been widely condemned as racist and xenophobic toward people of Asian heritage, as the Anti-Defamation League points out. However, U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently used it while trying to blame China for the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19. The term has also become popular among Trump’s supporters.
The dean says he’s referred Sotzing’s case to the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access.
Ucker is listed as an adjunct instructor of mechanical engineering and materials engineering on the school’s website.
He has not responded to multiple outlets’ requests for comment.
The university reported 321 cases of the virus on Thursday amid a spike in Cincinnati and the surrounding area.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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