Saturday 8 February was a day that many Chinese students living in the Netherlands will not easily forget. A poster of a Chinese flag was torn to pieces in a student dorm in Wageningen and hateful texts about the coronavirus were left behind.
Haoyu Zhu, Vice President of the Delft Branch of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars in the Netherlands (ACSSNL Delft) got angry when he heard this news. Although no incidents have been reported at TU Delft and he has never felt discriminated here, he says he is “determined to combat racial discrimination”.
Haoyu Zhu believes that one way to do this is to provide information to the TU Delft community. “I talked to my Dutch friends about the incident of the Dutch DJ who sang a discriminatory song about the Chinese because of the coronavirus. Some of them said ‘it was just a joke’. But it isn’t. It is a statement that implies that it is okay for Chinese people to be discriminated.”
‘People wear masks primarily to protect themselves’
Masks wearing in particular leads to misunderstandings, Haoyu Zhu states. “It makes some people fear the Chinese and some have even verbally abused or physically attacked the Chinese. I heard that many people in Europe think that we wear masks when we are sick ourselves. Such misunderstandings may lead to discrimination.” In China, Haoyu Zhu says, people wear masks primarily to protect themselves in crowded places, even though they are healthy.
Second year master’s student of Mechanical Engineering Haoyu Zhu bought a few dozen masks himself for a trip to France earlier this month. “I had planned to wear them there, but didn’t when I heard some people were attacked because they wore masks.”
Haoyu is not the only Chinese student in Delft who is concerned. A group of Chinese and other Asian students recently sent a joint letter to the Faculty of Architecture. They asked the Faculty to send an e-mail to all staff and students to remind them that ‘wearing masks is a measure of protection to prevent potential spread, not a symbol of disease’.
The students were invited to speak with Theo van Drunen, the Faculty’s Director of Education and Student Affairs, but Haoyu Zhu is not satisfied with the outcome of that conversation. “Some information on this topic will be added to the Q and A section of the TU Delft website, but not many people will read that.”
Theo van Drunen confirms that he spoke to the students who sent him the letter. There will indeed be some information in the frequently asked questions, he says, but he will not send an e-mail to students and staff. Van Drunen says that since there are no signals at TU Delft that people are being discriminated for wearing masks, there is no need to draw attention to the matter. “I am afraid that the effect will be counterproductive. Wearing a mask is and should not be unusual. Some students at our Faculty wear them and wore them before the coronavirus.”