Amid racial tensions in the United States, colleges and universities across the country have a new favorite metaphor: comparing the “virus of racism” to the novel virus that has upended the country.
After George Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody, the University of Michigan Engineering department called upon students to “help eradicate the virus of racism.”
“For over two months, we have been dealing with the coronavirus, a pandemic that has shaken the core of our institution and the world. It has been a lot to deal with; and has at times felt overwhelming. Yet during the past week, another virus reared its ugly head,” read the official university communication.
“This virus is called RACISM,” the statement adds.
“Racism has been in the fabric of the country since its inception. It is so tightly entwined in our socialization that it has been second nature in driving behavior,” the message continued.
“Systemic racism is very much like a virus. Much like the COVID-19 virus, racist attitudes spread very easily and are very damaging.”
In a recent message to students, interim president Marica White of Saint Rose College in Albany, New York, also compared the COVID-19 pandemic to the “virus of systemic racism” in America, stating “one is novel and invisible, the other is violent and imbedded [sic] in the culture and history of our nation.”
White went on to blame the impact COVID-19 has had on the African American community on “the imbedded inequity in our country,” mainly blaming what she believes are systemic injustices.
Dean Barbara Rimer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill stated in an official June 1 university communication that “racism is a public health emergency” and that “like a virus, racism is insidious and can damage everything it infiltrates.” Rimer added that law enforcement violence is a “symptom of the racism that still marks too many facets of modern American society,” and called “racism” a “disease, a virus that has infected America for 400 years.”
In a similar communication, Chapman University dean Rev. Gail Stearns remarked to the university community about both the challenges of coronavirus and the “virus of racism that has haunted us for generations.” Her concerns about the coronavirus focused largely on the unequal distribution of its impact on individuals, noting that African American communities were hit harder because they “lack access to basic nutrition or healthcare or education.”
“I have come to believe that in the face of COVID-19, we are all experiencing grief. Almost every one of us is experiencing the stress of loss. But stress is not distributed equally in our society,” wrote Stearns, before she went on to refer to racism itself as a “virus” and urge the community to “ no longer collectively avoid the reparation of years of injustice.”