President's Perspective - April 2020

april 2020 president's perpective reject bias reject stigma sandy fowler Apr 15, 2020

I am sure you are tired of hearing that what we are going through is unprecedented. But at least during our lifetimes—it is. What can Intercultural and DEI professionals do to help? With the spread of COVID19 there have been an increasing number of reports of stereotyping, harassment, and bullying of people perceived to be Asian. 

According to the American Psychological Association “decades of research show discrimination is associated with poorer health and mental health among LGBTQ, Asian American, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Muslim American and Latinx populations.  Stigmatized groups are particularly vulnerable during epidemics and pandemics—and it can put them and others at increased risk.” This is at least in part because stigma can lead people to hide symptoms to avoid discrimination and isolation. It can also result in physical harm to individuals.

Stigma and xenophobia are subjects that our professions know about and work to mitigate. The World Health Organization recommends that in addition to working toward containing the virus we work to counter the contagion of bias and stigma. There are several steps that we as Intercultural and Diversity and Inclusion professionals can consider and apply wherever we can.

  1. Communicate the Facts: Lack of accurate information make people more susceptible to biases and stereotypes. Culturally appropriate communication in multiple forms and languages is needed to reach segments of the population who need to hear that marginalized communities are suffering as we all are.
  2. Support Social Influencers: Support individuals who can model appropriate communication and denounce efforts to link epidemics with specific geographic areas and populations.
  3. Capture Stories of Recovery: Most people recover from the virus and it can be reassuring to hear their experiences, particularly when these individuals reflect the diversity of our communities. 
  4. PR Materials: Diverse communities working together to reduce risk is a powerful message of solidarity but an outsized focus on Asian Americans in the case of COVID19 can be harmful. 
  5. Ethical Journalism: As news consumers we should do our part to insist on responsible media reports that emphasize prevention, symptoms to look for, and when to seek care.
  6. Correct Myths, Rumors, and Stereotypes: It’s all right to speak up to those whose language promotes bias. We know how to do this and it is our responsibility to correct stigmatizing communication and to challenge myths.

Just as we know to wash our hands and maintain appropriate social distance, we can promote embracing and valuing diverse people and communities. We can start with ourselves.

Sandra M. Fowler
President, SIETAR USA