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OHIO professors Franz and Dhanani publish article on Xenophobia and Discrimination in the time of COVID-19

Ohio University professors Berkeley Franz and Lindsay Dhanani have published an article in Spark on xenophobia and discrimination in the time of COVID-19.

Spark, a magazine affiliated with the University of Michigan's National Center for Institutional Diversity, will publish “What COVID-19 Should Teach Us about Xenophobia” in June. The article presents findings from a recent national survey that Franz and Dhanani conducted related to COVID-19 and perceptions of Asian Americans and immigrants, or foreign individuals in general. 

“Dhanani and I wrote this article because we wanted to share what aspects of COVID-19 have activated bias and xenophobia,” said Franz, an assistant professor of community-based health in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Reports of violence toward people of Asian descent have become common in the U.S. and internationally, but no one has discussed how framing the virus in a certain way, paired with social inequality, has created the conditions for xenophobia to thrive.”

In the article, Franz and Dhanani, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, argue that fears related to COVID-19 have activated existing xenophobia in the U.S. and that certain factors have made the U.S. more vulnerable to growing xenophobia, especially the framing of the coronavirus as foreign, as well as the looming economic recession which will make existing inequality worse.

They also include that when individuals feel threatened, this fear is imprinted on "outsiders,” and in this case, Asian Americans, immigrants, and minorities more generally are perceived as competing for the same scarce resources – health, economic, or otherwise. 

On a more positive note, however, they also found that when individuals have accurate knowledge of COVID-19, xenophobia is reduced and that effective public health communication may not only improve health outcomes related to the virus, but may help reduce negative attitudes toward Asian Americans, immigrants, and minorities more generally. 

“The fact that xenophobia is related to beliefs and knowledge about COVID-19 is important to discuss publicly as the impacts of COVID-19 may expand far beyond public health,” Franz added. “The U.S. has always benefitted significantly from diversity and the pandemic, if anything, should remind us how important immigrants are to staffing our health care system and other essential services.”

Dhanani also expressed her hopes for what people may learn from this public health crisis.

“Moving forward, we hope COVID-19 illuminates how pervasive and impactful social inequality is in the United States and that public health officials take measures to craft their public statements about COVID-19 with the potential consequences for xenophobia and racism in mind.”

In addition to her role as assistant professor of community-based health at the Heritage College, Franz also holds the Heritage Career Development Faculty Endowed Fellowship in Population Health Science, Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Ralph S. Licklider, DO, Research Endowment. 

May 29, 2020
Staff reports