Anxiety. Feelings of helplessness. Social withdrawal. Anger.
Those are some “common” and “normal” reactions to coronavirus, according to a now-deleted infographic posted to Instagram by University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley. All might sound understandable.
But then, rounding out the list, the school listed this:
“Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings.”
The backlash was widespread.
“Confused and honest very angry about this Instagram post from an official (UC Berkeley) Instagram account,” wrote user Adrienne Shih in her post, which garnered thousands of likes and retweets. “When is xenophobia ever a ‘normal reaction’?”
Shih continued, “This post is literally normalizing racism. It’s not okay.”
Dozens of other users on Twitter had similar reactions, questioning the school’s choice of language.
The university issued an apology shortly after Shih’s post, but the damage was already done.
“We apologize for our recent post on managing anxiety around Coronavirus,” the school wrote on Thursday. “We regret any misunderstanding it may have caused and have updated the language in our materials.” The graphic has been removed.
This blunder comes amidst the further spread of coronavirus, which has infected thousands in mainland China and eight in the US. Delta and American airlines have canceled flights to the mainland.
The spread has come with increased xenophobia around the world, with one French newspaper touting a “New Yellow Peril?” as a headline, drawing backlash for its reference to an old ideology that targeted East Asians in Western countries.
People of Asian descent living in the West have already said they’ve been treated differently. One British Chinese journalist in London said a man quickly moved seats when he sat down on a bus.
Others have reported tasteless jokes online, too.
More than 30% of Berkeley’s student body is of Asian descent, according to demographics data.