What’s in a name: Westmont students think about names of COVID-19

Hans Khoe, Staff Writer

The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the lives of people everywhere. This article is meant to highlight one group in particular: how Asians are being affected by the coronavirus. 

Wuhan, China is a place inextricably linked to the start of this horrible outbreak. From the earliest known infection in Wuhan as early as November 2019, China, until recently, had the highest population of infections in the world. With that has come an implicit association between Asians and COVID-19. Incidents of Asians being sprayed with cleaning agents on the subway to racial slurs being yelled at passersby in major cities like New York or London have prompted responses from members of the world community and from the Westmont community. 

Ebun Kalejaiye had this to say: “The discrimination against Asians and Asian-Americans that has resulted as a product of fear over the COVID-19 virus is horrible. It really shows how desperate people are to find an easy scapegoat and blame others for problems that they let get bigger.” 

Christian Kim provided some personal insight: “I can’t say I’m completely innocent as I’ve kinda had those thoughts along the lines of “Oh, they’re [A]sian, I’d better steer clear of them …” To be honest I’m still not sure how to handle this kind of mindset because on the one hand, knowing how close and connected [A]sian communities are, I feel like it’s almost common sense in terms of staying clear of the virus. On the other hand, it feels wrong to make assumptions based on someone’s ethnicity.” 

As of now, names have been at the center of the media’s attention when it comes to the association between specifically the Chinese and COVID-19. However, all have been used with different intentions. At a recent White House press conference, President Trump called the virus “Chinese virus.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pushing for the name “Wuhan virus” to be used in a joint statement by Group of Seven foreign ministers. 

Some Westmont students believe the rhetoric to be damaging. Paige Johnson offered, “When we frame the virus in a way which places blame on a group of people or a specific area, the public begins to attribute negative thoughts or actions to those individuals. During a time like this, when the entire world is facing a pandemic which is putting our neighbors and friends at risk, we shouldn’t be using our rhetoric to create division, instead we should be striving for unity and helping our neighbors to flatten the curve and beat the virus.” 

Others believed coining it “Wuhan virus” does more justice than labeling it the “Chinese virus. “I’m almost more comfortable with calling it the Wuhan virus as it emphasizes the failure of the Chinese government and officials in Wuhan to stop the spread before it got out of hand, but again, that seems to put unnecessary blame on the many people in Wuhan that were victims of the unfortunate events causing the spread and should not be held responsible,” stated Clark Senator Mikey Kong. 

Editor-in-Chief of The Horizon Emily Washburn had this to say: “As a journalist and debater, I think the rhetoric we use is incredibly important. I say we should call it what it is — coronavirus. That being said, I also feel that there has been unfair backlash against people that have correctly pointed out that the virus originated in China. In the same way we should use the correct names to describe the virus, we should also be confident in naming where it’s from.” 

Some believe sticking to the scientific name is the way to go. Keston Kajitani mentioned, “I think COVID[-19] is the most specific since there are other coronaviruses. And I don’t see anything wrong with calling it Chinese or Wuhan since it originated from there allegedly. Honestly I think when people make big deals about that kind of stuff being “racist” they’re just creating more problems of inequality and racism.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) named COVID-19 for a reason: “CO” stands for Corona, “VI” stands for virus, “D” stands for disease, and “19” points to its discovery in 2019. The WHO also cautions against using other names in place of COVID-19, as those names can cause stigma, which in turn can “drive people to hide the illness because of discrimination, prevent people from seeking healthcare immediately, and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviors.” 

What’s important to note is that aggression towards others is not a new phenomenon especially in relation to viruses. “As a Nigerian family, the Ebola outbreak was when we faced racist comments and actions,” remembered Kalejaiye. This discrimination and others like it are products of fear. Asian Student Association co-leaders Tiana Krukar and Catherine Meng emphasized in a joint statement, “Fear is what is triggering these racist and unacceptable discriminatory actions against Asian-Americans.”

However, Krukar and Meng also reminded us that: “The injustice and hurt felt by the Asian American community due to COVID-19 simply echoes the sentiment of other movements like Black Lives Matter, US Immigrant Rights Movement, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. What is happening currently is just a nod to the systems of racial bias and inequality in our society.” 

Amidst the pandemic, fear reigns free. COVID-19 has changed the lives of everyone around us. However, we must not be blind to the slew of emotions and intentions that are not limited to this period of unrest. Each word and phrase can produce divisive rhetoric whether we like it or not — even to the extent that people will not be treated for this horrible disease.