Fighting Social Stigma Surrounding COVID-19

photo of Sonja Feist-Price
During this difficult time, UK Vice President for Institutional Diversity Sonja Feist-Price reminds us to remember and respect cultural differences within the campus community. Pete Comparoni | UK Photo

As the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 continues to build, I’ve witnessed the University of Kentucky community come together like never before to ensure the safety and health of every individual affected by this challenge.

Part of this work – no matter the circumstance – is remembering and honoring the range of cultural differences within our campus community so that we can move forward and lessen the social stigma surrounding COVID-19.

Our work begins with knowing the facts. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma toward people or places. What we don’t always see is the deeply rooted harm this can create among our communities if we don’t speak out and stand up.

In a recent email to the campus, President Capilouto reminded us to respect and honor our differences. He said:

"We should remember that cultural differences can impact the ways in which members of our community respond to this challenge. Someone’s country of origin has nothing to do with their level of risk in contracting the virus. Let’s be sensitive to our surroundings and celebrate our differences, remembering that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of who we are as a community."

And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shared some important facts to keep in mind:

Diseases like COVID-19 can make anyone sick, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Help stop fear by letting people know that viruses do not target specific racial or ethnic groups, and people who are Chinese or another Asian or Asian American identity should not be regarded with suspicion. Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards ordinary people instead focusing on how the disease impacts everyone, regardless of identity. 

Wearing a mask does not mean a person, or their family, is ill. People wear masks for a variety of reasons, including social or cultural reasons. For many, including some international students at UK, choosing to wear masks is a sign of respect for the health of others, as well as a precaution regarding their own health.

Avoid sharing misinformation. Stay informed through reputable, trusted resources like the CDC and public health officials.

Speak up and/or report if you see, hear or read misinformation or harassment. If you experience or witness harassment at UK, submit a Bias Incident Report.

Remember: the ways we conduct ourselves as individuals speak to our character as an institution; and, as the University for the people of the Commonwealth, there is no place for discrimination here. We are one UK! And the strength of our campus community is predicated on how well we affirm and celebrate each other, not only the things we have in common but also our differences.

We have a vibrant international student population, many of whom are unable to return to their home countries at this time. We ask that you support and encourage them during this time of transition. As President Capilouto says, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We must stem the tide of this virus; but even more so, we must be there for each other as we get through it.

And, we will get through it together.

Thank you for everything you are doing during this difficult time.

If you are feeling anxious or have concerns, students should reach out to our Counseling Center at 859-257-8701; and employees should reach out to Work-Life resources at 859-257-8763.

If you have experienced or witnessed a bias incident, please submit a report through Bias Incident Support Services (BISS). It will be reviewed by UK's Bias Incident Response Team.

For the latest information on the university's response to the outbreak, including a list of FAQs, visit

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.