Last weekend, the Bornsesteeg student flats were daubed with hateful texts such as ‘Die, Chinese’ and ‘Chinese Corona’. Chinese students were shocked by the incident. They see increasing discrimination of Chinese people since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
In the evening of Saturday 8 February, Bornsesteeg, which has a relatively large number of Chinese students, was attacked by vandals who smeared the lifts with faeces, tore up a poster of the Chinese flag and left behind hateful texts. Residents have reported the incident to the police.
‘A group of young people were running around shouting and laughing, knocking on the windows of student rooms,’ says Student Council member Yichun Zhou. ‘It was dark outside, so they can see you but you can’t see them. This makes you feel unsafe; it is intimidating.’
The incident in Bornsesteeg has caused a stir, as is clear from the multiple posts on the subject in Facebook group Wageningen Student Plaza. People commented on Twitter too. WUR Executive Board President Louise Fresco and rector magnificus Arthur Mol expressed their support for the Chinese student community in Wageningen and denounced the xenophobia and racism.
But besides statements of support, there were also negative reactions. Earlier, a cartoon of a Chinese flag was posted in the Student Plaza group in which the stars were replaced by images of the coronavirus, accompanied by a call to avoid all contact with Chinese people. ‘People have freedom of speech,’ Zhou says. ‘It is their right to make whatever jokes they like. But jokes are meant to be funny. If a joke is hurting people, it is not funny anymore.’
Ziying Huang is chair of the Chinese student association Cassw. ‘Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, we see discrimination against Chinese people increasing. Students are being called “Corona”, for example. Maybe people just want to make a joke, but it is not a joke to us. You have to realize that we are worried about friends and family back home in China, and now we also have to deal with discrimination and racist jokes here. That makes it difficult.’
Tolerance and respect
The mayor of Wageningen Geert van Rumund, Idealis director Bart van As and WUR rector Arthur Mol have expressed their disgust at the incident in Bornsesteeg in a joint statement. ‘These actions do not reflect the Wageningen culture of tolerance and intercultural respect. There is no room for hateful and discriminatory behaviour in Wageningen, where 110 nationalities live and work together in a peaceful and tolerant manner.’ The university is keeping in close contact with Cassw.
Both Zhou and Huang are happy with the swift response from the university and the municipality. However, Zhou does think that Idealis should work on the safety of its student complexes. ‘At present, anyone can just enter the building and wander down the corridors.’ On Facebook too, people are calling for camera surveillance or a pass system, which would prevent unwelcome visitors from entering the buildings. However, it is unlikely that cameras will be installed any time soon: a survey in 2019 showed that most residents do not want camera surveillance.