FAU professor calls COVID-19 “China virus,” wears Trump hat during class, angering students

“It is unacceptable for a professor to propagate racism and stigma that affects our community directly, and our society as a whole,” an anonymous student said.


Photo courtesy of Bri Wiggins.

Colby Guy, Editor-In-Chief

Students have in recent days condemned the actions of healthcare finance professor Dennis Palkon, who entered class via Webex, wearing a hat in support of outgoing president Donald Trump and referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus.”

“It’s my professor wearing a Trump hat for me. Welcome to FAU,” tweeted junior health administration major Bri Wiggins. She later tweeted that her professor referred to the virus as ‘the Chinese virus’ and the ‘Wuhan virus.’

Experts say referring to the virus in such a fashion pins blame on Chinese Americans. Wiggins felt such comments had no place in her Healthcare Finance class.

“He is clearly a racist man and should not be teaching students at a ‘diverse institution’,” Wiggins said. “Especially teaching a healthcare class. He should apologize to the students as boldly as he was speaking about the COVID-19 virus because it was so discriminatory – and be reprimanded by whatever office handles staff misconduct.”

Palkon claims that there was no ill intent behind his comments. “I didn’t mean any harm towards the people of China,” Palkon said. “China had been avoiding blame for the virus when in reality, it originated from China. I meant it against the Communist party, the Communist country of China, not the people.”

A senior healthcare administration student who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution also thought the comments were out of place. 

“Calling COVID the ‘China virus’ was personally offensive, I truly hope that I don’t have any Asian/Asian American classmates,” the student said. “It is unacceptable for a professor to propagate racism and stigma that affects our community directly, and our society as a whole. Besides the implications of using that term, this was a healthcare class where proper healthcare terms should be used.”

Palkon said he felt remorse but wished students voiced their feelings to him directly.

“I feel sorry that they’re offended, but I don’t think they fully understand that it came from Wuhan,” Palkon said. “The President calls it that, and other political people call it that, and I think it’s important for students to know.”

President Trump used the term numerous times in the last year. “I beat this crazy, horrible China virus,” he said to Fox News last October. “It seems like I’m immune, maybe a long time, a short time, maybe a lifetime.”

The student thought these actions were especially inappropriate given the recent events at the Capitol building, where Trump supporters had raided the federal building in response to what they believe was a rigged election.

I was shocked at first glance, I thought it might be a prank from the professor. In my opinion, it is extremely unprofessional for a professor to be sharing their personal political views in extreme ways such as wearing political gear in class,” the anonymous student said. “I felt as if the professor was trying to send a message, given the fact that we are no longer in election season, and the president he supports [was] …  impeached for a second time for inciting an insurrection on our own government.”

Wiggins eventually felt uncomfortable enough to drop the course.

“My heart was racing because I was just so angry,” she said. “Trump was just impeached again [on Jan. 13] and for Trump-extremists to have stormed the Capitol building, a symbol of the country that they love so much, just to destroy it, is absurd to me.”

Palkon agreed that the actions that took place during the Capitol riots were wrong, and he claims did not use the hat to make any particular statement.

“Those people broke the law, but I think the reason was that there was a lot of frustration,” Palkon said. “The media is typically biased against conservatives and doesn’t let them speak their mind, so that frustration, coupled with the election fraud that was found throughout the country was understandable. They crossed the line, but the President isn’t responsible for it.”

Palkon made it clear that he would not hold any grudges against differing opinions than his own.

“You have a right to vote however you want to vote, and I’m not trying to punish students. We can differ and I won’t punish,” Palkon said. “It’s sad students feel threatened and don’t talk to me about it. I think some of these younger students and media outlets are biased. You should have the freedom to wear whatever you want. It’s just a hat, I’m sorry.”

Colby Guy is the Editor-In-Chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thatguycolbs