Students say they are unhappy with Syracuse University’s decision to put a professor on administrative leave while it investigates his use of what the school called “derogatory language.”
Student groups spoke out after chemistry professor Jon Zubieta was reported to have written “Wuhan Flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Flu” in his syllabus notes. He was removed from the classroom, and the school issued a statement.
“The derogatory language used by a professor on his course syllabus is damaging to the learning environment for our students and offensive to Chinese, international and Asian-Americans everywhere who have experienced hate speech, rhetoric and actions since the pandemic began,” said a joint statement from Karin Ruhlandt, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and John Liu, the university’s interim vice chancellor and provost.
Some said it’s not enough.
“A lot of students are uncomfortable with the decision to place Zubieta on administrative leave. We expected him to be fired,” said a sophomore who is an organizer for #NotAgainSU and asked not to be identified.
Zubieta declined to comment.
The controversy began when graduate student Taylor Krzeminski shared a screenshot on her Instagram account, which featured an excerpt of the syllabus in which Zubieta refers to the coronavirus as “Wuhan Flu” or “Chinese Communist Party Flu.”
She saw it on The Tab Syracuse, which documents student and campus life through memes, and decided to call him out.
“It’s not safe for students to be in a classroom with a professor who thinks their ethnicity should be blamed for a pandemic,” she said. “I agree he should be on leave but the investigation better be quick because to me it’s incredibly straight-forward. He used political and racist language in a chemistry class.”
Undergraduate student Zoe Selesi shared Krzeminski’s post on Twitter, along with a screenshot of an email Zubieta sent to students in which he calls the coronavirus “CCP Virus.”
Neither of them is a student in the chemistry class.
In 2019, racial slurs against Black and Asian people were written on two floors in a Syracuse University dorm building. The university didn’t release an official statement for at least five days, according to the student newspaper, The Daily Orange. It led to the creation of the student-led movement #NotAgainSU.
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While the #NotAgainSU organizer was impressed at the quicker response this time around, she was surprised at the actual decision. “There is no need for an investigation if there is proof. It went viral, so the evidence is there,” she said. “These stereotypes and biases that are incorporated in the class by faculty will allow for unsafe spaces for students.”
Bias and racist attacks against Asian Americans have increased since the pandemic hit. About 3 in 10 Asian adults (31 percent) say they have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the outbreak began, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.