Bias, Diversity, Inclusion

Bias and the Coronavirus

Coronavirus Under the Microscope

This image has become one of the most widely-distributed pictures in the media over the last month as the coronavirus has continued to spread across the world.

In the last few weeks, as I have spoken with some of my colleagues in central Michigan who also work in schools, they are not even thinking about coronavirus, other than what they see on the news. These conversations reminded me of the importance of our own context. For us here in AB with a school community that is 33% Asian, it is critical that we all remain aware of the concerns that our families and students express around the coronavirus, as well as the increased potential for bias.

Potential for Bias/Stigma Surrounding the Coronavirus

It is important to emphasize that according to the CDC, coronavirus doesn’t target specific populations, ethnicities, or races.  Asian American students and their families are not at greater risk of acquiring and spreading coronavirus than anyone else who has recently traveled to certain regions of China or have been in contact with a person with confirmed or suspected coronavirus. While Asian Americans are not at any greater risk for coronavirus, we know that many families in our community are worried about loved ones in Asian countries where it is spreading rapidly. 

With core values of wellness and equity, our District staff members are committed to ensuring that our Asian American students and families do not face stigma in our schools related to the coronavirus. If students, staff, or families witness or experience negative comments about coronavirus targeting someone who is Asian American, they should immediately report it to their building administrator for investigation and follow-up. 

Right now, it’s important to have a heightened sense of what your students are saying in spaces inside and outside of the classroom. Respond immediately to any news of a student repeating racist or xenophobic language.

Coshandra Dillard, Teaching Tolerance

In February, Teaching Tolerance published n article titled Speaking Up Against Bias Around the Coronavirus. The author writes, “public health events have always been racialized. Pandemics that originate in areas populated by mostly people of color get more scrutiny, such as SARS in China or Ebola in West Africa. However, when pandemics occur in the United States and other western countries, such as the novel H1N1, citizens in those countries were not viewed as innately diseased. Many people die yearly from the flu, but Westerners aren’t seen as suspicious.” This is troubling, and those of us who are “Westerners” must remain aware of any biases- implicit or not- that we may carry in this regard.

The author also shares a few other resources for teachers to use with students, including the Speak Up At School Guide and the printable pocket guide that goes along with it. (ABRSD teachers- email me if you want a copy of either of these, and I will send them to you via inner-school mail!). As the author writes, “Right now, it’s important to have a heightened sense of what your students are saying in spaces inside and outside of the classroom. Respond immediately to any news of a student repeating racist or xenophobic language. It’s also vital to attend to any students or colleagues who have been harmed by anti-Asian American speech or rhetoric.”

Below is a poem written by a Singaporean teacher that has “gone viral” on the Internet in the last few weeks. Its author Ow Yeong Wai Kit says, “I hope that poems like these can inspire students to consider alternative points of view, and to deepen their empathy for others.” The poem itself is in ‘twin cinema format’, which means you can read it straight across, or you can read first the left column and then the right column for different viewpoints. In the left column, we hear the voice of someone who is overly cautious, while the right column reflects the voice of sensibility. Here Kit shares, “Ours is a polarised age in which so many voices, both online and offline, can sometimes be so stridently self-assertive, so belligerently self-righteous. (Especially when discussing foreigners). I think our civil discourse can afford to be, well, even more civil — kinder, gentler, more open to different perspectives.” A number of our secondary teachers plan to use this poem in lesson plans in the coming weeks to support understanding and perspective-taking.

Regularly, more resources appear online to support educators and families to talk with kids about coronavirus, like this article by Child Mind Institute or this NPR cartoon (which also has a cool printable, foldable “zine” version).

For the latest District information and family/staff resources, as well as District communications surrounding the coronavirus, please visit our District website.