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Racist graffiti and rise in anti-Asian messages at UW-Madison prompt virtual town halls

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UW-Madison bridge

Racist, anti-Chinese graffiti appeared on UW-Madison’s campus earlier this week, the latest in an increasing number of university incidents spilling out on sidewalks and social media.

Two messages scrawled in chalk at the bottom of Bascom Hill and on State Street targeted people from or perceived to be from China and East Asia.

One message said, “It’s from China #CHINESEVIRUS,” mirroring language used by President Donald Trump despite the World Health Organization going out of its way to avoid including people or places when naming the disease.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Patrick Sims published a statement Wednesday denouncing any behavior that blames China for COVID-19.

“It’s important to remember: No one person, country, or ethnicity created this pandemic — disease does not discriminate,” the statement said. “We want to be clear that racist behaviors or stereotyping of any kind are not tolerated at UW–Madison — no matter if we are online, passing others in public, or quarantined at home.”

About 15% of the university’s student body is international and roughly 14% of faculty and staff identified as Asian or Pacific Islander in fall 2018, according to UW-Madison data.

More than 350 students attended a virtual town hall Thursday where university officials said the recent graffiti prompted 25 bias incident reports. So far this semester, 81 reports have been filed, more than half of which involved discrimination toward Asian or international students.

Dean of Students Christina Olstad said some students have reported they no longer feel safe on campus or fear they will be physically attacked. She said she has heard of individuals coughing in students’ faces and other behavior she characterized as “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “This is just the start of the conversation.”

Many faculty and staff members also condemned the recent incidents in a petition that garnered nearly 1,000 signatures by Thursday morning. Administrators will host a virtual town hall for them Friday at noon.

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