Divino: What Defines Community in Times of Crisis?

   Agenda | Posted on February 11, 2020

Dear Friends,

As you know, our community joins with the world right now as we globally seek to understand and respond to the implications and spread of the new Coronavirus (now officially called “Covid-19”).

At this point in time, the impact of the disease continues to be tragically and largely focused in China and specifically in the city and province where the virus was first identified at the end of last year. Current reports suggest that nearly all of the more than 43,000 cases confirmed worldwide, and all but two of the more than 1,000 reported deaths, have occurred in China and most within that city and province where the virus was first identified.

As you may have read, the virus was first publicly identified by a 34-year-old ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang. Dr. Li, in the face of official reprimands by local authorities for “spreading rumours,” continued to care for those who had the disease, which he later contracted. A few days ago, he was another one of the hundreds who have died from the NCP virus.

Amidst these overwhelming details and statistics, there are also some small measures of hope—as of late Monday, reports indicate that more than 3,300 individuals have recovered from the disease.

However, I’m writing today not simply to provide an update on the medical risks and impact of this newly discovered virus. Instead, I want to reflect directly on the unreasonable fear that sometimes accompanies the ways we perceive, welcome and care for each other within our Andrews University community, especially at challenging moments like these.

In this particular situation with global healthcare risks, we discover that sometimes the most immediate fear is often about the “other” person in our midst. At times we may even perceive those individuals or groups to be a potential and direct risk to our own health or safety, based solely on the individual’s appearance or cultural heritage rather than documented health risk factors.

Over the last several days, I’ve had the privilege of talking about these concerns and realities with several of our Asian students, each of whom comes from a variety of home countries, including China. In addition to those conversations, I’ve received letters from Asian members of our University community, including one on Friday morning which included these disappointing details: 

“… I have been asked on a daily basis if I had the Coronavirus by complete strangers just because I'm Asian. (However)...I have never exhibited any behavior that would indicate that I'm sick. People…either literally slam doors in my face, or visibly avoid being in contact with me by moving their seats away (from me) in class, or make questionable remarks when they catch me wearing a face mask…”

This particular letter and other recent conversations have indicated to me that concerns like these move beyond simply a fear of contracting a disease to having a perspective that’s influenced by xenophobic fears or racist tropes against our Asian community members, on this campus or around the world.

I’m reminded in this context that the Andrews University community is on a complicated, and sometimes challenging journey to understand and achieve the ultimate benefits of a diverse, inclusive and beloved community that reflects the values of God’s kingdom.

This is clearly a moment where we are called to do and be truly different as we respond to and care for each other. I hope that each one of us will commit to serving as understanding allies and friends to the rich diversity of students on our campus—where each one of us is better understood, more valued, and increasingly accepted and included.

In my role as vice president for Diversity & Inclusion, I would also like to take this opportunity to solicit ideas on how we can continue to highlight and affirm the Asian/Asian-American student and employee experience here at Andrews. During the month of February, I think often about how much of a personal privilege it is to take part in celebrating my own culture and heritage (which I am always reminded is a year-round opportunity).

As a result, I can think of no better gift to offer during a month like Black History Month than to also seek and create spaces for our campus community to talk together more thoughtfully and carefully about how we can also celebrate and affirm Asian/Asian-American students. I have also been extremely pleased to see a number of our student groups representing students from outside of the African Diaspora (namely KASA—our Korean American Student Association) who have joined us in celebrating blackness during this month.

I continue to be committed to serving as an ally and advocate on these issues, even amidst these difficult steps in our shared journey, to help ensure that we do better going forward. Please reach out to me (you can email me here) so we can discuss how to consistently do this successfully as we move forward.

May God bless us in these commitments to support each other as we continue to monitor, understand and respond to the actual risks and factors connected with this global disease.

Michael Nixon
VP for Diversity & Inclusion