A prestigious music school in Rome, Italy has sparked outrage for suspending all “oriental” students amid the country’s first two cases of coronavirus, which is now a global health emergency according to the World Health Organization.
Director Roberto Giuliani of the National Academy of St Cecilia, one of the world’s oldest music schools, sent an email to all 160 of the school’s teachers on January 29, according to The Local. The note, translated from Italian, reads:
“Dear colleagues, because of the well-known events relating to the Chinese epidemic, the lessons of oriental students (Chinese, Korean, Japanese etc.) are suspended, as well as others who have come from the countries concerned.
“The conservatoire’s doctor will visit them all on Wednesday 5 February at 2pm. Only those who pass the visit will be readmitted. In the meantime, absence will be considered absence due to illness. Please let them all know, make sure they’re free on 5 February at 2pm, and remind them to bring the booklet. Best regards.”
The conservatory currently has 81 East Asian students enrolled, many of whom have lived in the country for several years, according to Italian newspaper la Repubblica.
The note was criticized by staff and students with one teacher saying, “It seems like an absurd message to send, one that discriminates and spreads fear. Unless specific cases have been identified, but the director has not specified,” according to ClassicFM. The same teacher also claimed that the conservatory has “never had a doctor.”
Another teacher was quoted as saying, “I hope it is a mistake, or a joke, but even if it were it would be in really bad taste. The news has spread among students and one of mine, of Korean origin, told me almost in tears. ‘Prof, but can I come to class tomorrow or not?’”
Two South Korean students, identified as Kim, 25, and Hwang, 24, told The Local they have never been to China. They went to the conservatory to demand answers from the director.
“We’ve just seen the director leave the building and walk away.
“I haven’t even been home to Korea in two years. We’re not against checks in themselves, but this is madness – it’s wrong for them to test only Asian students.
“We pay 6,000 euros a year, and they treat us like this?”
They claim that other Asian students attempting to enter the building have been stopped by security.
The Santa Cecilia Conservatory was previously caught in a tuition hike scandal in November 2019 where students from specific countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, were made to pay up to €8,000 ($8875.60) a year for certain courses while students from EU countries would only pay a maximum of €1,800 ($1,997). Students have since asked the Chinese embassy for legal advice to fight tuition hikes.
Guiliani has defended his memo, saying, “I have spoken to the education manager at the Chinese embassy. I have teachers and students to tutor.”
After the Santa Cecilia Conservatory’s move, the Como Conservatory has reportedly asked students returning from China after Chinese New Year to stay home for two weeks.
Italy’s current population of Chinese citizens is reportedly at 30,000. The first two cases of the virus were reportedly from a tourist couple from China who both tested positive for coronavirus on January 30.
NextShark has reached out to the Santa Cecilia Conservatory for comment.