This week, ESC debated whether or not to release a statement on the coronavirus and what such a statement would include. ESC Bureau Chief Lori Luo reports.
The idea of a statement addressing the coronavirus originated during position updates. Disability and Accessibility Issues Representative Ahmet Karadeniz noted that during his meeting with Columbia Health, they requested that ESC direct people towards an FAQ page that could answer any questions people had about the virus or the flu. This request stems from a flood of emails that they have recently been inundated with. After the coronavirus was brought up, Class of 2020 Class Representative Youngjae Ryu noted that many people at Columbia have been affected, many indirectly through friends or family that are directly involved with the situation.
At the end of position updates, Class of 2020 President Sambhav Jain said that he intended to give a statement regarding the situation around the virus in tomorrow’s statement. This desire originated from him viewing increased discrimination and xenophobia towards students who are Chinese. Generally, he said, our attitudes towards people from China has worsened, and he’s seen it personally in his classes. Jain wanted to address the issue directly with his class, as he feels that students are more likely to relate and to listen to information from a peer than from administration. Karadeniz noted that he could see the upside of such a statement, but that a potential downside could be exposing students of the group being discriminated against who were previously unaware of the situation to such news could be upsetting.
International Students Representative Katherine Liu, who prefaced her statement by saying that she is Chinese, agreed that while a message could have upsides and downsides, she thought that the message should just be positive. It should be supportive of everyone, Chinese or not and international or not. She also wanted to emphasize that everyone should go with the facts. Most people who were infected with coronavirus survived. People should be careful, and spread facts. Ryu agreed with her, saying that the fatality rate of the virus is significantly lower than what people feared.
His biggest concern, and the idea that would become one of the central focal points of ESC’s conversation, was the travel ban. For him, this is a personal issue. One of his colleagues whom he works with in lab is quarantined, and there are many others in similar positions to his. The current media coverage, he emphasized, was the result of bias, and the conversation around the virus is a hard field to navigate.
Karadeniz asked Ryu to clarify what he meant by a travel ban. While he was unsure, Student Body President Alina Ying said that she believed he was referring to Columbia’s policy on students who had come back from China on and after a specific date. Those students are required to self-report and self-quarantine. Karadeniz drew attention to a different policy outlined by Columbia Health, which said that Columbia doesn’t have a travel ban for Columbia students. Rather, Columbia is not sponsoring trips to China out of fear of federal trouble.
Class of 2021 Class Representative Ethan Thayumanavan brought the conversation back to the idea of a statement. He was for a statement of support that was more in line with how Columbia Health wanted: a statement that had information about campus resources. Moreover, he emphasized that we are all a community where every member should be treated fairly. Regarding a travel ban, Thayumanavan’s stance is ESC should not take a stance on legislation as they are a student council.
To Vice President of Policy Estevan Mesa, there is no harm in releasing a supportive statement. However, a more formal statement on the travel ban (whether within the school or the federal travel ban recently instituted by Trump) would require more debate and ought to be considered separately. Instead of talking about the travel ban in the statement, Karadeniz suggested ESC just send out a message that indicates the panic should not be as heightened as it is given the virus. However, both University Senator Joe Hier and Student Health and Wellness Representative Juliet Sampson both agreed that they would not be comfortable commenting on the nature of the virus.
Mesa stayed firm to his belief that there is nothing wrong with releasing a statement. He said that ESC doesn’t even need to specify the coronavirus and instead just talk about general illness as it is flu season as well. In a statement, he would like to address the wellbeing of students, friends, and family as well as hope everything is resolved as soon as possible. Essentially, the statement should convey a message of community.
Some members of ESC disagreed with Mesa’s suggested approach. Racial Diversity and Inclusivity Representative Sabina Thomas believed that the email should be more direct. If it isn’t addressing the xenophobia and racism that originally kicked off the idea of a statement from ESC, there is no point in even sending an email. Similarly, Jain, who proposed the idea of statement, disliked the idea of having multiple statements from various people. He wanted the statement to come from him via a post on Facebook so there would be a more personal feel to the statement.
In general, ESC agreed that there should be a statement in the newsletter that generally followed what Mesa proposed: a well rounded, positive statement meant to inform. Mesa added that anyone who would like to post individually is also free to do so. Jain disagreed with this generally accepted format. Instead, he focused on having one statement shared from one source; he wanted to write one and have ESC quote or cite from his original Facebook post. Sampson pointed out if the statement is in the newsletter, it should be from ESC as a whole. However, Jain felt that approach would lead to the loss of a personal touch he felt a statement from him would have.
At this time, ESC reached the end of their meeting time. While Mesa called for a vote to continue the meeting and the discussion by a minute, it was defeated by a majority vote. ESC disbanded. There was no solid conclusion reached, but some members continued an informal discussion afterward.
Coronavirus schematic via Wikimedia