A Purdue University professor used the term “Wuhan virus” in his class syllabus but later defended its use after removing it.
The term was used three times by associate professor of construction management Randy Rapp in his Construction Management 250 class syllabus, according to the school’s student newspaper Purdue Exponent.
One Purdue Polytechnic Institute source, who feared academic repercussions, was referred to as “D” throughout the Purdue Exponent article. The student said the class did not notice the term in the syllabus until halfway through the semester.
“It was on the class homepage for two, three months before anyone noticed,” the student said. “Somebody noticed, brought it up with them, and they still didn’t change it for a good 12 days.”
Dimitri Karallas, a senior Polytechnic Institute student, told the Purdue Exponent that he confronted Rapp, but Rapp responded by saying it was the same as calling any other virus by the place from where it originated, such as the Spanish flu.
Rapp addressed the issue in an email later that day, stating he would change the syllabus if “young people are overwrought and reportedly unable to study” because of this wording. His email also defended his use of the phrase.
“Ample facts showed us that the pestilence began in the Wuhan region,” Rapp said. “Wuhan virus is a simplification, not in the least illegal, immoral, unethical, inaccurate or dangerous. Of course, there is nothing political about that phrase.”
Rapp ended the email by quoting Purdue President Mitch Daniels in a 2019 commencement speech, “The antonym of snowflake is Boilermaker.”
Rapp also told the Purdue Exponent that he found it odd his students took months to notice his wording, only bringing it up after taking a hard test.
“The simple Wuhan label was published in the syllabus before the semester began and earlier in assorted communications of mine since the disease struck us in earnest,” he said. “So many people read the words the past 22 months and said nothing about the term — rightfully not.”
He said the decision to change the wording in his syllabus was ultimately his, but he is passionate about preserving freedom of speech. He also said he had not yet seen any evidence that referring to COVID-19 as the Wuhan virus was harmful, nor that it could have contributed to any rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. He assured that if there was any cause of effect he would be concerned.
The Purdue Exponent also spoke with associate professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering Zhi Zhou who said he, as a Chinese man, views the terminology “Wuhan virus” as harmful.
“There is no scientific basis to link the outbreak of a virus with its geological location,” Zhou said. “It only reinforces stereotypes of people and encourages and promotes racial hate towards Chinese (people) or Asians.”
In addition to the recent increase in hate crimes against Asians across the nation, Zhou dislikes the term, because he says it’s inconsiderate to all the people who suffered in Wuhan.
“Calling a virus with a city’s name is unfair to the 11 million people living in the city of Wuhan, as almost all residents are victims of the virus and thousands of families have lost their parents, children, relatives and friends,” he said. “Their hometown should not be labeled with a virus.
“It’s also unfair for the whole Asian community in the United States. Most of them don’t have any connection with Wuhan. It’s not only hurting Asians in this country, it also hurts the American value that all people are equal and deserve the same level of respect.”