Language Stigma

Our various identities may cause us to experience the challenges of COVID-19 differently. 

When people associate COVID-19 with a specific group, ethnic community or nationality, stigma and discrimination occurs. These narratives are reflected in acts of racism or xenophobia. These behaviours can have a significant effect on the mental health of affected individuals. Stigma affects us all. It creates fear or anger towards people instead of the virus.

It’s important for all of us to stand up and refute these narratives. As the SFU community, we have the opportunity to come together and support each other. 

Be kind, be calm, be safe.

- BC Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry

Possible Stigma Linked with COVID-19

  • Wrongly implying that particular racial or ethnic groups are more susceptible to viruses.
  • Wrongly assuming that some racial or ethnic groups are spreading the disease more than others, instead of recognizing that this is a global pandemic with community spread.

What words can I use to reduce stigma?

The words we speak can have the power to harm and heal. The BCCDC COVID-19 Language Guide lists the following examples for inclusive language that you can start to incorporate in your vocabulary.

What Should I do if I Notice Problematic Behaviour?

  • Model Appropriate Behaviour – Step in to reframe comments in the moment with an appropriate response.
  • Give someone the chance to repeat or reframe what they said – Sometimes we notice our mistakes and need a chance to correct ourselves. Other times, we might need some education.
  • Silence implies that the problematic behaviour is okay - calling out harmful comments is never easy or comfortable, but it’s the right thing to do (e.g. “I know you were just trying to make a joke, but here is why it was offensive...”. 
  • Focus on Yourself — Don’t try to interpret what other people might be feeling or thinking. 
  • You are not responsible for your experience with racism, and do not need to prove why your experience is valid.

What Should I do if I got Something Wrong?

  • Be reflective and don’t argue – Listen to people with lived experience and remind yourself this is a learning process. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s not a sign of bad character.
  • Offer a genuine apology — Admit when you’re wrong, reflect on what you said and apologize for the harm that was caused.
  • Commit to learning more about the facts, doing better in the future and avoid engaging in the same problematic behaviour again.

Microaggressions and Covid-19

What is a Microaggression?

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

If You Experience a Mircoagression

  • Protect your physical safety and emotional health — It’s up to you to decide if and when you want to respond. If it’s too much emotional labour, it’s okay to walk away.
  • Surround yourself with community — Connect with peers, community organizations, or even online networks to share your experiences.
  • Seek Support if You Need It – See:
  • Concerns or reports of discrimination or racism by students or to students can be raised with the Student Conduct Office. Staff in the office will work with students, staff and faculty to address the concerning behaviour and this may include a complaint being brought forward under the Student Conduct Policy S.10.05. The Student Conduct Office can be reached at or 778 782 6601.