Stopping the stigmatization of Chinese classmates in response to coronavirus


York University educator is available to explain how to teach children to challenge fear

TORONTO, January 31, 2020 – Parents need to avoid transferring their own fears about the coronavirus to their children, and instead encourage them to condemn racism and xenophobia against their East Asian Chinese classmates, says Vidya Shah, an assistant professor in York University’s Faculty of Education.

Shah, an education expert on issues of equity and justice, is concerned that some elementary school parents are spreading misinformation to their children about the coronavirus. Instead, parents and teachers should learn the facts about the coronavirus from public health officials and empower young people with facts, she says.

“The fear and worry of parents may cause their children to unfairly blame, stereotype, and stigmatize their East Asian classmates and to treat them unfairly and inequitably,” says Shah. “Fear and panic can often lead to racism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression.”

While parents can acknowledge the fear they’re feeling, they must stress the facts: the risk in Canada remains low, the Canadian government is taking the necessary precautions to protect people from the spread of coronavirus, and everyone can take action by washing their hands more regularly.

“Parents and educators have a responsibility to teach young people to challenge the racist and xenophobic treatment of East Asian Chinese people through conversations and curriculum that debunk stereotypes,” says Shah. “Children should be encouraged to intervene when they hear racist comments or witness racist behaviours by calling it out and disrupting these harmful stereotypes.”

Shah was a teacher in the Toronto District School Board. Currently, she leads classes for prospective teachers, including Teaching for Diverse & Equitable Classrooms in Ontario, and teaches in the Master of Leadership and Community Engagement program.

She can comment on:

  • How to talk to children about the coronavirus
  • The best ways to stop kids from stigmatizing their Asian classmates
  • How to stop harmful stereotypes about Chinese people
  • Tips for disrupting racism, xenophobia and demeaning and derogatory comments against marginalized and minority children in schools

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York U's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contact: Vanessa Thompson, York University Media Relations, 647-654-9452,