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Letters to the Editor

Students’ Experiences With Racism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Wilby, Kyle John PharmD, PhD; De Chun, Lik; Ye, Rebecca; Smith, Alesha J. PhD

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003801
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To the Editor:

Reports of racism against Asian individuals have been documented during the COVID-19 pandemic, but little is known about the implications for student well-being and support.1 We conducted a cross-sectional survey to identify instances of racism associated with the COVID-19 pandemic toward undergraduate pharmacy students (n = 370) in New Zealand. The survey, which was administered via email over 2 periods, included questions exploring experiences with direct and indirect racism and racism-related implications for overall well-being.

The first survey period (March 1–14, 2020) occurred after New Zealand reported its first COVID-19 case but before Level 4 lockdown was instated. At this time, COVID-19 cases were primarily located in China, South Korea, the Middle East, and Europe. The second survey period (March 31–April 13, 2020) occurred one week after Level 4 lockdown was instated. During Level 4 lockdown, only essential services and businesses are allowed to remain open, primarily supermarkets, pharmacies, service stations, and health centers. Individuals are meant to stay at home and to limit any exposure to those not living within the same dwelling.

A total of 86 students (50% Asian) responded to the pre-lockdown survey. Of the respondents, 13% reported experiencing direct racism (defined as a direct physical, verbal, or written act perceived to be targeting the individual), 35% reported experiencing indirect racism (defined as an act directed to a greater population or community that resonated with the individual), and 37% indicated racism associated with COVID-19 affected their well-being. Reported sources of racism included social media, verbal abuse, and physical contact or gestures. A total of 183 students (50% Asian) responded to the post-lockdown survey. Approximately 7% of the respondents reported experiencing direct racism in this period, 18% reported experiencing indirect racism, and 28% indicated racism associated with COVID-19 affected their well-being. Reported sources of racism were similar to the pre-lockdown survey. In both periods, direct racism was said to occur at the grocery store, on the street, or in other public establishments.

Our findings suggest that racism experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students and has negatively affected their well-being. Our findings support the notion that student support services and pathways must be reviewed and modernized to better serve the needs of students affected by racism during international health crises. Future research should focus on developing proactive prevention strategies, rapid response services, and student resilience training.


1. Devakumar D, Shannon G, Bhopal SS, Abubakar I. Racism and discrimination in COVID-19 responses. Lancet. 2020;395:1194.
Copyright © 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges