The University of Cincinnati, Ohio is currently investigating an email response from a UC adjunct instructor who used a purposefully derogatory term with racist connotations to refer to the COVID-19 crisis in an email exchange with a student. In the email, he also directly refused to grant the student a grade on a lab course work he missed because of quarantining, although the importance of quarantining is still emphasized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as it limits the risk of spread.
Student Evan Sotzing later used twitter to publicize the unnecessary display of anti-Asian rhetoric from his mechanical engineering university instructor by uploading screenshots of their correspondence concerning the zero grade that Evan received for a missed in-person lab. He explained that even though he did not attend the lab to respect proper safety precautions because as his girlfriend tested positive for COVID-19, the instructor gave an uncompassionate and completely inappropriate response. Mr. John Ucker, the adjunct in question, outed himself as a racist by emailing the following statement, “For students testing positive for the chinese virus, I will give no grade.”
This incident happened exactly a week ago, ironically on the same day that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing Asian American racism and xenophobic attacks. College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean John Weidner released a statement last Friday morning saying, “We immediately looked into this matter on behalf of the student to ensure that our Return to Campus guidelines were followed,”. Weidner, when asked if the instructor would be fired, also said, “It depends on his intent and his context. So, that’s what the process will determine. I don’t think we can take the word itself and say the faculty member should no longer be on campus.” The latest update on the case, according to the UC spokeswoman, M.B. Reilly, is that the university has since placed Ucker on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of said internal review.
This email using “chinese virus” as a blanket term for anything tangentially related to the COVID-19 virus is a microcosm of the bigger social racializations underpinning the deep political division we find ourselves navigating today. Denying that this blatantly racist and dismissive email response in a professional and academic setting is perpetuating racism. His email response also shows his clear lack of thought, what more compassion, for the people currently sick with the virus, the people who lost their lives to the virus—that, at the time of writing, is at a conservative count of 202,000 deaths nationwide.