UCLA Professor Sparks Outrage After ‘Wondering’ If His Chinese Students Could Spread Coronavirus

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A professor from the UCLA School of Law has been accused of racism and xenophobia after posting a series of tweets that ruminated on Chinese people’s supposed consumption of “wild animals” and the possibility that one of his Chinese students could be harboring the coronavirus.

The controversy involving Stephen Bainbridge, who teaches corporate law, reportedly started on Feb. 25, when he mused whether China would ban eating animals that serve as viral hosts if asked “nicely.”

“If we ask nicely, do you think we can get China to ban eating bats, civets, and other wild animals that serve as viral hosts?” Bainbridge asked.

On April 6, the professor posted two new tweets that mentioned his “bad case of bronchitis” earlier this year and “wondered” whether one of his current Chinese students could have brought back the coronavirus from China.

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“The Economist reports that an antibody test for the novel coronavirus will soon be available. I would be most curious to take one. As some of you know, I had a horrific cold/flu in late January/early February that I assumed was a bad case of bronchitis,” Bainbridge wrote.

“I have a number of Chinese students in my class this semester and I wonder if one of them might have brought the virus back from China. I assume not because I know of nobody else at the law Schoo [sic] who got sick, but still… One wonders.”

As of this writing, Bainbridge’s Twitter account (@ProfBainbridge) is no longer accessible. However, some students managed to save screenshots of his tweets.

Among them is Alton Wang, who called Bainbridge out in a tweet on April 9. The professor reportedly blocked the student the next day.

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“This is a @UCLA_Law professor, who gets to teach at an institution that will rather support racist professors than the students, particularly students of color. And we wonder why law school isn’t an inclusive environment and why institutional barriers remain for many POC,” Wang wrote.

Bainbridge reportedly responded to Wang’s tweet and apologized for causing offense, which he claimed was not his intention. He also noted treating the situation as a “learning moment.”

“It was not my intention to offend, but now that they have been called to my attention I can see why those tweets gave offense. They were particularly inappropriate since this is a time for all of us to be especially careful not to contribute to racial antagonism,” Bainbridge wrote.

“I have deleted the offending tweets. I very much regret them and apologize sincerely. I hope that we can move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and mutual understanding. Personally I intend to treat this as a learning moment.”

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The controversy has since reached the school’s Asian/Pacific Islander Law Students Association (APILSA). Bainbridge reportedly apologized to the organization, as well as to Wang, in emails sent on April 11.

In a public letter, the group, however, noted that it cannot fully accept the professor’s apology “in its current form.”

“We appreciate Stephen Bainbridge’s acknowledgement of his mistake. However, on behalf of our community, we cannot fully accept his apology, in its current form, as sufficient redress for the material harm that his tweets generated,” APILSA wrote. “The original tweets were posted for a week and were only removed when students became publicly outraged.”

APILSA argued that Bainbridge’s public apology for his original tweets enjoyed “a degree of privacy,” since they only appear on the “Tweets and Replies” section of his profile and not on his front feed. The organization also revealed that “dozens” of students had reached out to them after the professor’s posts had gone viral.

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“These students had already been anxious about the growing number of API individuals who have become victims of hate crimes in the wake of COVID-19; several of these individuals had already faced discriminatory episodes at the law school themselves.

“We strongly condemn Stephen Bainbridge’s egregious tweets posted on April 6, which irresponsibly perpetuate xenophobic stereotypes. This is a blatant violation of the spirit of the UCLA Faculty Code of Conduct, which states that faculty at UCLA must not discriminate against students on the basis of race or national origin. This situation surpasses the lifespan of a deleted tweet.

“What was a learning moment for Stephen Bainbridge was a deeply hurtful moment for his audience. For us, it is a time to recognize the historical racism our communities have faced, the continued racialization of a devastating health crisis, and the repeated failures of this institution to address faculty misbehavior in good faith.”

APILSA demanded that Bainbridge issue a public apology addressing the specific concerns raised in their letter. Such an apology should be emailed to the law school, posted on his Twitter account, and featured on his blog.

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The organization also called upon the professor to “consider” making a donation to Stop AAPI Hate, either on their behalf or the School of Law’s. They “strongly suggest” a sum of $1,100, which would be the equivalent of a dollar for every Asian and Pacific Islander victim of a reported hate crime as of March 19.

APILSA will be hosting an online forum on April 17, 2 p.m. PST to address grievances from students regarding xenophobia. Bainbridge is also demanded to attended.

“Our hope is that at some point in this forum, we will allot no more than 15 minutes to turn to the specific harm that you caused students: you may be asked to answer questions from students regarding your tweets,” APILSA noted. “We ask that you not be defensive, but rather approach us with empathy as we share our experiences of racism in a larger discussion of how we can collectively heal.”

On April 13, Bainbridge posted a public apology on his blog. In it, he acknowledged that his tweets were “stupid and insensitive.”

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“I very much regret having given offense and contributed — albeit unintentionally and inadvertently — to a challenging time. There are unquestionably far too many strains of xenophobia in this country right now, especially taking the form of anti-Asian and anti-Asian American sentiment. In this context, my tweets were thoughtless and unfortunate. Put bluntly, they were stupid and insensitive,” Bainbridge wrote.

“I failed, especially with respect to my Asian and Asian-American students. Sadly, the legitimate criticism of the recent tweet has driven home that my participation in Twitter has impeded my ability to educate and to act as a witness for Christ. Accordingly, this morning I deleted my account. Permanently.”

UCLA Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin also released a public statement responding to APILSA’s letter. She apologized for Bainbridge’s tweets and urged the general law school community to “do better” and to “constructively call us to account when we do not fully live to our principles.”

Feature Image via UCLA School of Law

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