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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Justice Movement

Professor’s tweets regarding COVID-19 elicit student concerns of xenophobic tone

Stephen Bainbridge, a professor at the UCLA School of Law released public apologies for the remarks he made via Twitter. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Saumya Gupta

Apr. 27, 2020 6:55 pm

A professor’s tweets caused UCLA law students to express their dismay and concerns, among instances of discrimination toward Asians and Asian Americans arising from COVID-19.

Stephen Bainbridge, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, released a public apology for tweets perpetuating xenophobic stereotypes in late Feburary and early April. One Tweet, first posted Feb. 25 stated: “If we all ask nicely, do you think we could get China to ban eating bats, civets, and other wild animals that serve as viral hosts?”

He later posted on Twitter on April 6: “But I have a number of Chinese students in my class this semester and I wonder if one of them might have brought the virus back from China. I assume not because I know of nobody else at the (law school) who got sick, but still… One wonders,” in regard to a recent illness he had.

The tweets started to gain attention on social media and caused an interaction with a law student, Alton Wang.

 

The professor’s Twitter account has since been deleted.

The Asian/Pacific Islander Law Students Association sent out an open letter that condemned the April 6 tweets and contained a list of calls to action for Bainbridge, including that he attend an online community forum and make a public apology.

“This is a blatant violation of the spirit of the UCLA Faculty Code of Conduct, which states that faculty at UCLA must not discriminate against students on the basis of race or national origin,” the letter reads.

This is not the first time Bainbridge has drawn backlash for remarks made online. In 2011, Bainbridge described a customer service representative he spoke with as “a moron with an impenetrable accent” on his personal blog.

Bainbridge tweeted an apology regarding the 2020 tweets prior to the deletion of his account and emailed an apology to APILSA co-chairs Brendan Pratt and Constance Chan, according to one of his blog posts. He also issued an apology on his blog.

“There are unquestionably far too many strains of xenophobia in this country right now, especially taking the form of anti-Asian and anti-Asian American sentiment,” Bainbridge wrote. “I very much regret having given offense and contributed—albeit unintentionally and inadvertently-to a challenging time,” he added.

Asian Americans have had to deal with physical and verbal attacks during the pandemic. Advocacy groups and researchers report seeing an increase in reported assaults to tip lines and newspapers, according to The New York Times.

There are law students from China who were really hurt by the tweets, Chan said.

“You can imagine that, for them, especially having been from China and having just visited (the United States), it was pretty jarring for them to see those tweets,” she said.

Bainbridge’s tweets emerged at a time where there is a lot of tension with Chinese students, Asian American students, and Asian students here on student visas, Pratt added. There is a general concern about Asians’ safety on campus, he said.

Shuping Dong, a law student, said Bainbridge’s tweets made her feel terrible because she is from Wuhan, China. The professor’s words imply that Chinese people are the virus, she said.

Dong said she has already read many hate comments against China and Asians, and added that she thinks having a UCLA law school professor voice similar opinions can worsen the situation instead of helping it.

Wanyi Zhu, a law student, said she felt disappointed about Bainbridge’s actions.

Bainbridge and others who have a higher social status and influence will do more bad than ordinary Americans if they are sharing hate speech, Zhu said in an email to the Daily Bruin.

“We cannot be silent anymore,” Zhu added.

UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin sent a statement to the UCLA law school community April 14 stating that she appreciated Bainbridge’s apology and that she was sorry for any harm Bainbridge’s tweets had caused.

Mnookin and her administration have been in conversation with students and student organizations in order to figure out how to create an inclusive and strong learning environment, according to her statement.

“We can – and must – do better,” Mnookin says in the statement. “In the coming days and weeks, I look forward to working with APILSA, BLSA, and others in our community to continue to listen, learn, and address these issues in meaningful and concrete ways.”

APILSA published a public statement the same day acknowledging the dean’s statement and Bainbridge’s apology.

“We need to create a new standard of cultural competency and tolerance and we need accountability for when those in positions of power violate those standards,” the statement reads.

Since the dean’s statement April 14 was released, there have been several meetings involving students, the dean, school administrators and faculty to advance the conversation and identify solutions, said Bill Kisliuk, executive director of communications at the UCLA School of Law.

The goal of these meetings is to identify steps that would help better the curriculum and campus climate so students and community members from every background feel support and feel welcomed at the law school, he added.

“The goal of the meetings really is to move forward together, kind of have everybody working in good faith, and have a robust exchange of views,” Kisliuk said.

Bainbridge wasn’t comfortable attending a large community forum but he did attend a small group meeting April 19 with representatives from APILSA, a representative from the Native American Law Students Association, and some students from China, Chan said.

The details of the meeting were kept confidential, but she and Pratt were glad to be able to have representatives of the community talk to him, Chan said. They look forward to furthering the discussion about cultural competency with him and other faculty, she added.

“This isn’t the last conversation between students and faculty about how we can all do better,” Chan said.

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Saumya Gupta | Assistant News editor
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