The Council of Chief Diversity Officers at the University of California has issued a “guidance document” to reject racism, sexism, xenophobia and all hateful or intolerant speech, both in person and online” during this crisis. Specifically, it tells students to stop others from referring to the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.” The guideline raises renewed questions over the use of diversity rules to restrict or regulate free speech, particularly terms that have strong political or social meaning for students.
UC tells students to “Be an ‘up-stander,’ and discourage others from engaging in such behavior.” It then goes further and states: “Do not use terms such as ‘Chinese Virus’ or other terms which cast either intentional or unintentional projections of hatred toward Asian communities, and do not allow the use of these terms by others.”
I refer to “COVID-19” OR “coronavirus” but it is chilling to see a public university encouraging students to stop others from referring to the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus. This remains a point of political debate. Many, including members of Congress continue to use this term because of its origins. Moreover, many object that China has lied about the origins of the virus and arrested scientists who tried to tell the world about its dangers. It is political speech.
We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on campuses with rising speech codes and ambiguous rules barring “microaggressions.” A small percentage of students and faculty often push for such speech codes and regulation. However, it is often difficult for students and faculty to object at the risk of being called intolerant or microaggressors. We discussed previously a Gallup poll confirming that most students feel that they are no longer able to speak freely at college due to this minority of speech intolerant students and faculty. Ninety percent of Pomona students said that they did not feel free to speak openly or freely. It is an indictment of not just Pomona but many of our colleges. Nine out of ten students said that “the campus climate prevents them from saying something others might find offensive.” Nearly two-thirds of faculty feel the same. Seventy-five percent of conservative and moderate students strongly agree that the school climate hinders their free expression. Notably, that is “nearly 2.5 times higher than very liberal students.”
The guidelines issued by UC reflects a view that diversity allows for the silencing of others who hold opposing political views. Many view the reference to the Chinese virus as a statement of its origins and no more prejudicial than the Spanish Flu. I have previously stated that I find the use of the Chinese virus to be gratuitous and unscientific. Yet, while I use coronavirus as the term, I agree with others that we need to resist the global effort of China to bury its responsibility in concealing the facts of the outbreak, including barring disclosure during the early critical months of the outbreak.