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

Note: This article contains a reference to UK's Bias Incident Response Team, which no longer exists. To report discrimination, harassment or sexual misconduct, visit

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

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.