In an effort to comfort students during the deadly global coronavirus outbreak, Penn Global International Student and Scholar Services released a YouTube video titled "Stay Strong, Penn" last Thursday.
The video, which included Mandarin subtitles, features Penn administrators and student leaders from groups like the Assembly of International Students and the Undergraduate Assembly offering reassurance, information about on-campus resources, and warnings against xenophobic targeting. In the video, Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum urges viewers to "know that [their] Penn family will always be there for [them]."
ISSS Director Rudolfo Altamirano said he decided to make the video to quell coronavirus-related paranoia he had heard about on campus.
"I think people are just paranoid and anxious — not just students, but also staff," he said. "It’s normal to be anxious because of the fear of getting sick, but this turns into 'Well, if you’re wearing a mask, I don’t want you to get me sick!'"
Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said the video was made to unite administrative groups and leaders on campus to stand in solidarity with students who have family affected from coronavirus.
College senior and UA President Natasha Menon, who participated in the video, said she hopes the video will help foster an inclusive environment on campus.
"We have directed students to the anonymous reporting form from Diversity at Penn if they feel like they are targeted in any way," she added.
The UA recently collaborated with ISSS, Pan-Asian American Community House, AIS, and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly on Tuesday for the "Send a Positive Message!" event held at Perry World House, where students and staff could write messages to friends and family across the globe who may be in danger due to the coronavirus.
Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel, who was featured in the video, stressed the necessity of spreading awareness about the reality of the virus.
"We want to make the campus more aware about [the coronavirus]," he said. "This is not something to be hysterical about." He added that the University is currently working to monitor the situation and has canceled spring study abroad programs in China.
The outbreak is affecting the Penn community beyond study abroad inconveniences. One student from Wuhan, China — the origin of the virus' outbreak — was forced to take a leave of absence this semester when his home city went into lockdown before he could return to campus after winter break.
Wharton senior Ruowen Lu, a Chinese international student at Penn who has family in Wuhan, said that although she didn't like the video quality of "Stay Strong, Penn," she appreciated the sentiment.
"From a videography standpoint, I don't think it's extremely well done, but the fact that [ISSS] took the initiative to do something like that — I really respect it," she said.
College junior and AIS president Justine de Jesus, who was part of the video, said she thinks the video was not just an outlet to reassure the Penn community about coronavirus, but also to address biases and debunk myths regarding coronavirus.
She also said she has heard her peers in AIS constituent groups who have family in China discuss their anxieties surrounding the virus and travel restrictions. She said she feels that many Penn students lighten the issue in an unproductive way, especially when Penn students joke about wearing face masks to class.
"There's memes and jokes that downplay the severity of this issue," she added. "While the goal of the video is to produce a positive message, [the goal] is ultimately to address the bias and concerns on campus."
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