University students across the UK have criticized xenophobia against Asian students following multiple incidents involving discrimination related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Chinese students at Newcastle University spoke out about being targeted with verbal abuse or being ostracized in the community during a rally against coronavirus discrimination Tuesday.
“Some students spoke about friends and family members who have experienced racism," said Sara Elkhawad, the Newcastle student union’s equality officer.
"Other students talked personally about having gotten verbal abuse walking down Northumberland Street in Newcastle or people moving away from them on the metro.”
Elkhawad said every report has been taken very seriously and the university has a zero tolerance policy on discrimination.
“It’s our duty to come forward and support people of different communities even when it doesn’t affect us directly,” Elkhawad told CNN.
“One student actually from Wuhan spoke and expressed how moved she was that people from all backgrounds came out to give support.”
The first UK cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in Newcastle.
Students at the University of Leicester condemned similar discrimination at the institution.
“There is absolutely no place for racism on our campus and we are deeply sorry to our students who have had to endure this,” said Leicester Students’ Union in a statement.
“The incidents unfortunately involved comments regarding coronavirus, which highlights how sensationalized the discourse surrounding the virus generally has been, where people have used ‘health concerns’ as a very thin veil for their racism.”
Two high school students from southeast Asia were accused of bringing the virus into the UK and had eggs thrown at them in a separate incident near Leicester on February 3.
Leicestershire Police are investigating that incident as a “racially aggravated assault.”
At Bath University, where one person is being tested for coronavirus as a precaution, the student union also released a statement urging students to treat each other with tolerance and reject rumors surrounding the coronavirus.
Next week, students in Newcastle are partnering with Chinese student societies to hand out pamphlets dealing with myths about coronavirus and information on cultural norms surrounding surgical masks.
“Can I please ask you to take a minute to consider the impact that the current situation is likely to be having on those who have traveled back to Newcastle from China in recent weeks and find themselves in the middle of this situation that is completely outside their control?" Newcastle University President Chris Day wrote in a letter to staff and students.
"This is a particularly difficult time for them and no doubt many of them will also be worrying about family and friends who are still in China."
More than 120,000 Chinese students, and about 225,000 students from Asia in total, attend British universities, according to the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Sara Elkhawad.