The State University of New York at Albany (UAlbany) said it would investigate “any allegations of conduct violations” after the school’s Asian student community called an off-campus coronavirus-themed party “racist.”
In a short, now-deleted video, originally posted on Barstool Albany’s Instagram account, a bucket of iced Corona beers and a student wearing a surgical mask over his face appear with the caption: “Corona virus isn’t gonna stop anyone from partying,” reported WGY News Radio in Albany.
The local radio station said the video also showed a white sheet with a biohazard symbol and two faces—one with an X over each eye and the other with “what looks like straight lines for eyes.”
In response, the UAlbany’s Asian American Alliance released a statement on Instagram, saying that the coronavirus-themed party served to “dehumanize the affected population.”
“Your party is not funny and completely insensitive,” read the statement published last week. “The real life affects (sic) of this virus has not only led to mass stereotyping of Asian people, but also hundreds of deaths around the world.”
The group also called on the university to “investigate this illegal student group,” seemingly referring to the Instagram account the video was originally posted on, and UAlbany students involved. The group also demanded that the school make the Instagram account delete the video and apologize in an Instagram post.
Barstool Sports is a national sports media company and is not affiliated with the university.
“The Office of the President shall inform all UAlbany students to stop racism and disrespectful slogans in any situation,” the alliance demanded. “Especially coronavirus hate crime against Asian American students and scholars based on groundless suspicion of virus hosts.”
In a Feb. 22 statement to the Democrat and Chronicle, the university said the theme of the party in question was “distasteful and hurtful” and did not represent the values of the school or its students. UAlbany officials added that while they were aware that the party was held off-campus, “any allegations of conduct violations will be investigated and addressed through the University’s disciplinary process.”
Meanwhile, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free-speech advocacy organization, weighed in on the issue, saying the party’s theme is protected by the First Amendment, despite its distasteful nature.
“SUNY Albany is a public institution and may not punish its students for expression protected by the First Amendment, no matter how offensive others may find it,” FIRE said in a statement, adding that the university can investigate and punish students for behavior such as underage drinking, but not for the party’s theme, which is protected expression.
As of Monday, there have been 53 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, in the United States.