By Guest Contributor: UCLA Law‘s Asian/Pacific Islander Law Students’ Association (APILSA)
Editor’s Note: On February 25 and on April 6, UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge posted tweets musing whether his Chinese students were carriers of COVID-19 and linking Chinese consumption of exotic meats to the spread of novel coronavirus. Professor Bainbridge later deleted the tweets and blocked UCLA Law students who criticized them. Facing mounting criticism, yesterday Professor Bainbridge engaged people on Twitter — including the editor of this blog — walking back the content of his tweets.
This is an open letter written by UCLA Law’s APILSA regarding Professor Bainbridge’s tweets. Full text of this letter can also be viewed on Google Docs. You can add your name as a signatory to this letter here.
Shortly after this letter was made public, Professor Bainbridge deleted his Twitter account.
Dear Law School Community,
On Tuesday, February 25, 2020, Stephen Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge, Note: now deleted) issued the following (now-deleted) Tweet:1Stephen Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge), Twitter, [https://perma.cc/GL4F-AMMZ] (Feb. 25, 2020)
“If we ask nicely, do you think we can get China to ban eating bats, civets, and other wild animals that serve as viral hosts?”
On Monday, April 6, 2020, Stephen Bainbridge issued the following series of (now-deleted) Tweets:2The original tweet links to an NPR Morning Edition Episode, which actually discusses the racism that Chinese students are experiencing due to COVID. See Coronavirus Concerns Weigh On Chinese Students At U.S. Colleges, NPR (Feb. 6, 2020) (noting that racially insensitive comments “have led to a sense of ill-ease among some Chinese students here and that’s amplified by social media back home”)
“1/ The Economist reports that an antibody test for the novel coronavirus will soon be available. I would be most curious to take one. As some of you know, I had a horrific cold/flu in late January/early February that I assumed was a bad case of bronchitis.”
“2/ But I have a number of Chinese students in my class this semester and I wonder if one of them might have brought the virus back from China. I assume not because I know of nobody else at the law Schoo [sic] who got sick, but still… One wonders.”
On Friday, April 10, 2020, Stephen Bainbridge blocked Alton Wang on Twitter, and Alton Tweeted about this development with a series of screenshots.
On Friday, April 10, 2020, Stephen Bainbridge replied to Alton’s Tweet:3Stephen Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge), Twitter, [https://perma.cc/85MT-39YE] (Apr. 11, 2020).
“1/ It was not my intention to offend, but now that they have been called to my attention I can see why those tweets gave offense. They were particularly inappropriate since this is a time for all of us to be especially careful not to contribute to racial antagonism.”
“2/ I have deleted the offending tweets. I very much regret them and apologize sincerely. I hope that we can move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and mutual understanding. Personally I intend to treat this as a learning moment.”
At around midnight on Saturday, April 11, 2020, in response to Reappropriate’s question, Stephen Bainbridge Tweeted:
“I was shooting from the hip about whether I had gotten and recovered from a very serious disease and I was not thinking about how it might contribute to the negative racial climate to which you correctly avert [sic]. It was a mistake and one I regret wholeheartedly.”
“2/ have [sic] apologized publicly to Alton. I have sent an apology to APILSA. Back during the last time I got into a twitter controversy, a brave student took me aside and quietly told me I had hurt my ability to teach our students and to be a witness for Christ at UCLA.”
“3/ That really shook me up. So I have tried to be more careful be [sic] sensitive and empathetic. I realize now I fell short. And no-one regrets that more than I. In closing, at the risk of using a cliche, please be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me and I’m still growing.”
At midnight on Saturday, April 11, 2020, Stephen Bainbridge emailed an apology to Constance Chan and Brendan Pratt, co-chairs of APILSA, and Alton Wang.
We appreciate Stephen Bainbridge’s acknowledgement of his mistake. However, on behalf of our community, we cannot fully accept his apology, in its current form, as sufficient redress for the material harm that his Tweets generated. The original Tweets were posted for a week and were only removed when students became publicly outraged. The Twitter thread that constitutes Stephen Bainbridge’s only public apology for his original Tweets enjoys a degree of privacy, as they are buried in the “Tweets & Replies” section of his profile, and do not appear on the main page where the original Tweets were posted.4If a concerned student were to check his profile again after reading the initial Tweets, the only development that would be apparent is the fact that he has since deleted the Tweets and has now posted a joke concerning COVID and Lent. It is important to note that this joke was posted within the same hour as his apology reply to Alton. [https://perma.cc/PVF6-8APD].
Stephen Bainbridge’s April 6 Tweets caused material harm to the API community at UCLA Law. Dozens of students reached out to APILSA after screenshots of the Tweets were circulated on social media. These students had already been anxious about the growing number of API individuals who have become victims of hate crimes in the wake of COVID-19; several of these individuals had already faced discriminatory episodes at the law school themselves. When Stephen Bainbridge reached out to Alton, Brendan, and Constance on April 11, several APILSA and APALJ members, as well as a large group of LLMs, had already spent dozens of hours of emotional and intellectual labor on crafting a response. We gathered a list of grievances from a spectrum of perspectives within the API community, consulted with faculty members on our approach, and conducted in-depth research to ensure that the historical and normative underpinnings of our letter were comprehensive and accurate. Therefore, we felt compelled to issue this public statement, in addition to responding to Stephen Bainbridge privately.
We strongly condemn Stephen Bainbridge’s egregious Tweets posted on April 6, which irresponsibly perpetuate xenophobic stereotypes. This is a blatant violation of the spirit of the UCLA Faculty Code of Conduct, which states that faculty at UCLA must not discriminate against students on the basis of race or national origin.5See Faculty Code of Conduct, UCLA General Catalog 2019-2020. This situation surpasses the lifespan of a deleted Tweet. What was a learning moment for Stephen Bainbridge was a deeply hurtful moment for his audience. For us, it is a time to recognize the historical racism our communities have faced, the continued racialization of a devastating health crisis, and the repeated failures of this institution to address faculty misbehavior in good faith.
With this letter, we enclose a list of demands which we intensely thought through, debated, and built consensus around, while always keeping in mind students and APIs most harmed by an endorsement of xenophobia and racism. We also wish to highlight the historical and contemporary context surrounding the April 6 Tweets in order to clarify our deliberative, collective process and why we strongly believe the April 10 apology was not adequate. We hope that by sharing our analysis, our requests can be seen for how reasonable they are and how they are necessary for our community’s restitution and healing.
As APILSA, we sent a school-wide letter about the hundreds of APIs who have been victimized by xenophobic attacks in the wake of COVID-19.6See email sent by Student Announcements (firstname.lastname@example.org), subject line “Message from the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association: Open Letter re: Xenophobia”, dated March 30, 2020. https://twitter.com/apilsa/status/1249381021453144064 We pointed out that violence occurs precisely due to a misguided and dangerous notion that anyone who could be mistaken for Chinese is responsible for the pandemic. The past few months have been harrowing for the Asian American community. In addition to the stress of a global pandemic, APIs have increasingly faced racism and racially-motivated violence.7Just a few days ago in a racially motivated crime, a person threw acid at an Asian woman in Brooklyn. See Tina Moore, Brooklyn Woman Burned Outside Home in Possible Acid Attack An Asian Family, N.Y. Post (Apr. 6, 2020). An Asian family, including a two and six-year-old, were stabbed last month as part of a hate crime. See Sara Boboltz, Stabbing Of Asian American Toddler And Family Deemed A Hate Crime: Report, Huff. Post (Apr. 1, 2020) (noting that the suspect admitted to police that “he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus”). A recent Facebook video shows an Asian-American family in Los Angeles being verbally assaulted by a stranger on a walk through their neighborhood. The post’s author reported that “[The stranger] proceeded to throw racist obscenities towards me and my family. Before my wife had a chance to start filming, he told us to ‘go back to China with the coronavirus’ and to ‘shut up and go eat some rice.’” Sam Han, Facebook (Apr. 7, 2020) [https://perma.cc/V6SY-KMJE].The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, along with over 260 other organizations, have called on Congress to denounce these attacks.
API individuals have been verbally harassed, spit on, kicked and punched, and barred from business establishments and ride-sharing services because of a perceived link to the virus. As of March 19, 2020, over 1,100 incidents were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, at a rate of about 100 cases every day.8Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Press Release: Stop AAPI Hate Receives Over 1,100 Incident Reports of Verbal Harassment, Shunning and Physical Assault in Two Weeks (Apr. 3, 2020), http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/Press_Release_4_3_20.pdf.
You can imagine our dismay when, one week after our letter was disseminated, a faculty member propagated the same xenophobic and unfounded assumptions we condemned by stating that his Chinese students could have “brought the virus back from China.”9Numerous recent studies have in fact indicated that New York City’s outbreak came from European visitors and the U.S. government’s failure to instate even minimal health screening in its airports. See Carl Zimmer, Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show, NYTimes (Apr. 8, 2020). See also Madeline Holcombe, New York’s Coronavirus Outbreak Came From Europe And Other Parts of the United States, Research Projects Suggest, CNN (updated Apr. 9, 2020). The United States now leads the world in highest COVID-19 cases and deaths by a far margin, which many experts have stated is a result of the U.S. government’s slow pandemic response, failure to adequately equip its hospitals, failure to instate adequate quarantines and travel restrictions, and lack of universal healthcare. See Donald McNeil, The U.S. Now Leads the World in Confirmed Coronavirus Cases, NYTimes (Mar. 26, 2020). However, the continued blame on China, as exemplified by Professor Bainbridge’s tweets, indicates a lack of understanding of the United States’ own failures in its pandemic response. To have a faculty member publish this message on a public platform is unacceptable.
These tweets undermine UCLA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and create a hostile learning environment for API and international students, many of whom are enrolled in his classes.10See UCLA Law’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, available at https://law.ucla.edu/student-life/diversity/ (“Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our role as a leading public law school in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Some of our specific goals include creating a more inclusive law school community; engaging in critical discourse about legal and social issues within the law which are often avoided or suppressed; developing professional identity; and enhancing cultural sensibility to equip students with the tools necessary to effectively practice in an increasingly diverse world”) (emphasis added). Xenophobia in the law school, particularly in a law school that virtue-signals inclusion and uses ‘diverse’ faces on its marketing material, is abominable. The API community at UCLA Law deserves a real response.11Cf. Dean Mnookin’s email sent in response to COVID, dated February 28, 2020 (“I am acutely mindful of the numerous members of our community who are from areas where many are infected, as well as those who have family and friends significantly impacted by the virus . . . . Misinformation and misguided precautions, often rooted in racially insensitive stereotypes, have already proliferated across the world; let us please assure that in our community, we do not stigmatize anyone in our campus or greater community based on national origin”) (emphasis added).
In particular, many Chinese students in our LLM community are particularly vulnerable and have experienced increasing racism.12UCLA Law’s LLM information page advertises, “UCLA Law’s faculty has a world-class reputation for scholarship. We’re unique, however, because these leading scholars also seek to foster an encouraging and supportive learning environment.” See https://law.ucla.edu/llm-sjd/llm-program/. See also Cheryl Harris, Critical Race Studies: An Introduction, 49 UCLA L. Rev. 1215, 1234 (2002) (“[L]iberal and conservative paradigms about race infuse the curriculum at every level and determine a wide range of pedagogical decisions regarding, among other questions, text, cases taught, issues raised, and the framing of parameters in classroom discussion.”). But cf. American Enterprise Institute, UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge’s Diversity Statement (Jan. 1, 2020). To address these concerns, an LLM student raised concerns of racism during a Dean’s Student Advisory Council meeting and urged the Dean to institute substantive action moving forward.13This student’s privacy has not been violated without permission. This student came forward and willingly shared their experience at the DSAC meeting and approved inclusion of this message. We cannot take pride in our UCLA LLM program while we simultaneously ignore the xenophobic acts and attitudes within the UCLA Law community.
We understand that some faculty members are afforded the privilege of tenure in the guise of academic freedom. But when faculty statements stereotype students, they directly frustrate the core goals of the university—promoting robust learning and collegiality. Although these tweets may not necessarily trigger violence directly, they perpetuate the same stereotypes that instill resentment, fear, and shame in their readers, ultimately inhibiting learning and a sense of belonging at the law school.
We anticipate the argument that we may be chilling free speech by policing social media, especially when an apology has been issued. Yet the distinction between censorship and accountability is clear. Language has a viral quality.14See Keith Aoki, Language is a Virus, 53 U. Miami L. Rev. 961, 962 (1999) (“Like a virus, language is a nonliving pattern of information, a configuration of meaning that attaches itself to consciousness, a program waiting to be executed, changing both the consciousness it infects and morphing its very own structure as it replicates itself.”)—it can pollute, infect, and distort our perception of the world and each other. We ask the administration not to sanitize Stephen Brainbridge’s speech, but rather hold him accountable for exacerbating a dangerous situation. Akin to yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, statements like the Tweets at issue weaponize hysteria against marginalized groups.15See Shenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52 (1919). There are consequences for the person who yells “fire!” even after an apology, and there must be accountability here.
We demand good leadership because leaders frame the problem—both its causes and its solutions. Those who occupy positions of prominence and power have a heightened responsibility to ensure that their messages do not become ammunition for xenophobia. Korematsu is an infamous blemish in Asian American history, where leaders declared their own citizens a yellow peril.16See Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). Framing Asians as the “other” previously led to the abhorrent event of Asian Americans being interned in their own country.
Without proper framing about where the law school stands, the dean’s administration is allowing for mass hysteria and anti-Asian sentiment to silently pervade the now-virtual walls of our law school. Xenophobic attacks have been plaguing the API community across the nation for months, and the law school administration has yet to issue a statement.
This letter does not signify a lone band of students trumpeting overblown concerns about an esoteric issue. Some may attempt to classify our reaction to Stephen Bainbridge’s statements as a ‘snowflake’ response or a ‘liberal’ appeal to melodrama. But xenophobia in all forms is an issue that countless bar associations, nonprofits, community organizations, political coalitions, and scared family members have been struggling with for monthsSee NAPABA, Press Release: Stand Against Hate.17See also NCAPA, Press Release: Asian American and Pacific Islander Leaders and Over 260 Civil Rights Organizations Call on Congress to Denounce Anti-Asian Racism around COVID-19 (Mar. 11, 2020). This is an issue that is couched in the fabric of our immigration and constitutional law, which has produced a narrative of yellow peril and the scapegoating of Asians and Asian Americans.18See Ivan Natividad, Coronavirus: Fear of Asians Rooted in Long American History of Prejudicial Policies, Berkeley News (Feb. 12, 2020). See John Kuo Wei Tchen & Dylan Yeats, Yellow Peril: 19th-Century Scapegoating (Mar. 5, 2014) (“Depicting Chinese immigrants as potential threats to national security in the 1880s secured Congress’s exclusive Constitutional right to regulate immigration as a function of its war powers, internal and external.”).
This is not the first time that Stephen Bainbridge has made an inexcusably insensitive public statement, it is not the first time students have joined to condemn his actions, and it is not the first time that the school has declined to take decisive action.19During the Kavanaugh hearings, Dean Mnookin recognized that the student body had been under “tremendous strain” because of a “painful . . . spectacle” that was “deeply re-traumatizing.” See Dean Mnookin’s email in response to the Kavanaugh hearings, dated October 4, 2018. Around that time, Stephen Bainbridge issued the following Tweet: “My dean sent around an email asking faculty to be considerate of students stressed by the Kavanaugh hearings. I asked in reply: When do we teach our students that they are going to be professionals who will often have to set aside their personal feelings and get on with the job?” (emphasis added). Cf. the first response that UCLA Law gave to the Kavanaugh hearings, in the form of this Tweet: “Should #Kavanaugh sue for libel over new assault allegations? @VolokhC tells @lawcrimenews: ‘It’s rarely in the interest of office holders to sue for libel, legal standard to prove defamation is high & lawsuit will keep the allegation in the public eye.’” Compare with the letter sent by the Survivors and Allies Support Network, dated September 18, 2019 (“As a leading law school, UCLA School of Law has a duty to take these allegations seriously and use its voice and resources to support survivors. Instead, by issuing this Tweet, the Law School politicized the stories of survivors and gave credibility to the individuals who attempt to discredit survivors”). See also Student Groups Protest UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge’s Heated Blog Remarks, Law School Dean’s Written Response, The Daily Bruin (Apr. 15, 2011) (“The post, made by Stephen Bainbridge, professor of corporate law, began with complaints about FedEx Express Office online services. Bainbridge described the customer service representative he spoke with as a ‘moron with an impenetrable accent,’ and asked, ‘What third world shithole do they have him penned up in?’”) (emphasis added). Tweeted apologies alone do not erase his personal history of endorsing questionable views, nor do they mitigate the school’s institutional history of inaction. Moreover, it has only been a matter of months since the Black Law Students Association called attention to Eugene Volokh’s repeated use of the N-word, once in lecture, and then again in a non-lecture context, to which the school also did not respond publicly.
Although we understand that the administration had plans to respond, their overall response to these kinds of issues has been lackluster.
We see this moment in time as both a tragedy and an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to shift the school’s attention to an urgent issue affecting the API community, as well as to call on the school for academic accountability for all marginalized people. Because our communal history is often swept under the rug in academic and professional settings, we are making efforts to not only publicize this letter but also to institutionalize this memory in an issue of the UCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal.
On our part, and for the benefit of our API community at UCLA, we are also hosting an online forum to address grievances from students regarding xenophobia. During this forum, we aim to not cut off students and to fully allow students to air out their responses to this event, as well as other incidents that they feel have not been adequately addressed by the law school. The forum will take place at 2:00pm PST on Friday, April 17th. The Zoom login details and more information are forthcoming.
We are calling on Stephen Bainbridge to:
- Address the specific concerns raised here in a public apology that should be emailed to the law school, posted on your Twitter account, and featured on your blog. We ask that you acknowledge and reflect on the history of xenophobia in which the offensiveness of your Tweet is lodged. So as not to obscure the impact of the original harm, we ask that you include the original language of your April 6 Tweets in issuing this public apology.
- Consider making a donation to Stop AAPI Hate either on APILSA’s behalf or on UCLA School of Law’s behalf. We strongly suggest the sum of $1,100—one dollar for every API victim of a reported hate crime as of March 19, 2020, since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We are not condoning the idea that monetary payment is enough to alleviate the pain and suffering of those affected by xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are including this request as a means of contributing to the API community, whether it ultimately be in the form of donation or some other form.
- Attend our April 17 online community forum, where we will be addressing grievances from students regarding xenophobia in general, and be ready to actively listen and learn from students. Our hope is that at some point in this forum, we will allot no more than fifteen minutes to turn to the specific harm that you caused students: you may be asked to answer questions from students regarding your Tweets. Understandably, there are some members of our community that doubt the sincerity of your Tweeted apologies. We ask that you not be defensive, but rather approach us with empathy as we share our experiences of racism in a larger discussion of how we can collectively heal.
We also call on the Dean Mnookin to:
- Attend the April 17 online community forum and be ready to actively listen and learn from students. At some point in the forum, we hope to ask you questions from students regarding Stephen Bainbridge’s Tweets and the school’s failure to address the xenophobia sparked by COVID-19 thus far. As aforementioned, we will limit the amount of time for you to speak, as the focus of this community forum is on the students and their experiences. Again, our community forum is not a public shaming mechanism, but rather a vehicle for community healing.
- Address and denounce Stephen Bainbridge’s Tweets, as well as xenophobia in the wake of COVID-19 at large, to the law school and publicly on Twitter since that was the public forum in which this incident played out. In the interest of putting a face to the institution in a way that demonstrates substantive engagement and care for APIs, we suggest a recorded video, though we recognize a sincere, comprehensive apology may take many forms.
- Provide concrete support for the LLM student body. Specifically, we ask that the school recognize and emphasize how this xenophobia has disproportionately affected LLM and international students. To inform faculty and students of the consequences of racist and xenophobic behavior at the law school, we suggest that you consider organizing a panel of international students to engage them directly about their experiences.
- Send a faculty-wide email urging faculty to be sensitive about their social media posts. Let us be clear: We are not suggesting that the administration function as a sort of language or free speech police. However, we would like the administration to create standards for faculty members’ public social media behavior. We want substantive engagement from the administration and believe that there is a difference between prohibiting language and pointing out language that threatens the privacy and well-being of students.
We call on the student body to:
- Attend our April 17 community online forum if it would be of interest or benefit to you to share your own experiences and learn from your classmates’ experiences regarding xenophobia, racism, and/or COVID-19.
- Write to Dean Mnookin regarding this letter and your relevant experiences with xenophobia and racism at the Law School.
- Post a link to this letter to the UCLA School of Law social media accounts, or at least comment, “Please respond to UCLA APILSA’s letter regarding Stephen Bainbridge,” and please use the following hashtags: #BainbridgeDoBetter #StandWithAPILSA.
There were members of our community who wanted us to make more taxing demands. Many members of our community found the Tweeted apology and the school’s note on xenophobia disappointingly weak. They believed the casual nature of the apology, when combined with the lack of institutional action, rendered the aforementioned gestures disingenuous, facile, and latent in line with the school’s historical record of sweeping student concerns under the rug.20See Dean Mnookin’s email sent in response to COVID, supra note 15. To our student readers, we see you and hear you: We understand that it is disingenuous for the school to expect us to see our professors as intellectual and professional giants, and also to expect us to disregard the opinions they espouse beyond the four corners of the casebook. We also understand that it is disingenuous for the school to tout its students’ unique and diverse perspectives, and then to ignore their concerns about ongoing racism from inside and outside UCLA Law. We also agree that it is disingenuous to ask us to engage in current events, and then to expect us to turn away when our community is threatened. Some have called for Stephen Bainbridge to be suspended from teaching for a year without pay, for his textbooks to be cut from business law syllabi, and for academic disciplinary actions to be initiated against him per the Faculty Code of Conduct.
Although we deeply feel the hurt and frustration of our membership, we articulated our demands with an eye towards community healing, closure, and engagement. In light of the administration’s historic inaction and the April 10 apology, we decided to not pursue other demands. Ensuring the restoration of our community is our main priority. We are treading on the ground of an important moment, where we have the distinct chance to make issues affecting the API community visible and to benefit marginalized students at large by demanding heightened accountability. We do not take this task lightly.
The words of Shakespeare capture best our choice to see these past couple days as an opportunity, as well as the undeniable urgency of these issues:21Compare with Dean Mnookin’s email in response to the Kavanaugh hearings, supra note 23 (addressing the campus discourse regarding the hearings with a quote from Measure for Measure).
There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.22William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 3 (Folger Library, Simon & Schuster) (2004).
In solidarity and in disappointment,
Asian and Pacific Islander Law Students Association Executive Board
Asian Pacific American Law Journal Executive Board
International Student Peer Support Group Executive Board
Queer and Transgender People of Color Collective Executive Board
APILSA serves as a valuable resource and a significant social support network for law students to succeed academically, socially, politically, and professionally. APILSA coordinates numerous events and activities that educate and inform members about current Asian Pacific Islander issues, and prepares members to manage such issues in both academic and professional legal settings. APILSA also provides a common forum for expressing members’ needs and concerns as Asian Pacific Islander law students. APILSA strives to develop innovative programs that lend academic and peer support, and aspires to continue its long-standing success.
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