Courtesy of Yitian Wang, Yanchen Ge and Yanzhu Chen
When he was 14, Yitian Wang came to the United States from Wuhan, China, and lived in Rochester, New York, for four years. Wang said he sometimes feels unwelcome and hesitates to tell people he’s from Wuhan — where COVID-19 was first identified.
“I am hesitant to introduce myself, because you can almost see people’s reaction when I say I’m from Wuhan, and you don’t know if they are sorry, or if they are angry. Sometimes I don’t feel welcome,” Wang said. “Then I think about the students who came here as their first year. That must be hard on them as well.”
This experience inspired Wang, a sophomore psychology and political science major, to create a student-run news channel this February, called Pitt-China Weekly, on the app WeChat, which he described as a “Chinese Facebook.” The publication — which has seven staff members — is dedicated to making the nearly 7,000-mile distance from Pitt to China feel a little shorter for Chinese international students and their parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Chinese international students are disconnected with state universities, not just Pitt but around the world. A lot of us found it hard to stay, because of what’s going on with this country, but a lot of us also found it hard to go back, because of the travel ban and also the time difference,” Wang said. “Right now there are a lot of Chinese international students taking classes at 3 a.m. in China. That’s not OK. We need to have a voice in this community and we have to step out of our comfort zone as well.”
Wang said he eventually plans to expand the news channel to other platforms in order to include not only Chinese international students, but all international students.
“We’re just on this platform because right now we are just writing stories to the community of Chinese international students and their parents. Our dream is not just that, it’s beyond. We want to create something called Pitt International Weekly,” Wang said, “During that time, we will move forward to American platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.”
In the two and a half months since its inception, Pitt-China Weekly has completed several projects. For its first project, Wang interviewed Delo Blough, the director of Pitt’s Office of International Studies, and asked questions about how COVID-19 would affect the spring semester.
To determine what questions to ask, Wang said Pitt-China Weekly conducted a poll that received 190 responses from international students and parents through WeChat.
“So we delivered that question to director Delo, and we had an interview. And then we translated everything and presented it to the people,” Wang said. “We want to make Chinese international students feel supported.”
Yanchen Ge, the photographer and videographer for Pitt-China Weekly, also covered the Stop Asian Hate rally in Oakland last month. Ge, a senior film major, said he decided to record a video for the news channel because he felt a personal responsibility to document the event.
“We are the witness of history, because this is the first time I’ve heard that there is such an Asian rights movement happening in the United States and this is the first time I’ve seen and experienced a rally,” Ge said. “As an Asian film student, this is my responsibility to document this kind of thing.”
The publication also translates and publishes translated emails from University officials such as Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. Wang said this is important for parents who need critical information to make decisions quickly.
“While we are doing this for the Chinese international students because they are not here in this country, we also want to help out their parents, who don’t read English. So when you see the announcements from the chancellor, from anyone high above, they cannot simply read it because they don’t know the language,” Wang said. “That’s why we want to build up this platform for them, so they can gather this information as fast as they can to help them to make a plan for their kids.”
Yanzhu Chen, a first-year psychology major, is a writer for Pitt-China Weekly. While many of her peers attend classes in Pittsburgh, Chen takes her classes from China. She said she is eager to be done with the 12-hour time difference, which makes it difficult to connect with the Pittsburgh campus.
“I hope I can be on campus next semester but it will be difficult because of the visa [process] and COVID-19,” Chen said. “Pitt-China weekly helps us to connect to Pittsburgh easier.”
Pitt-China Weekly also created a “photographic Chinese memoir about the Pitt campus” in March that consisted of 19 images of Pitt’s campus. The memoir included photos that showed adjustments Pitt made for COVID-19, such as buildings with entrance- and capacity-restriction signs. It received almost 10,000 views, but Wang said the number of views wasn’t the most surprising aspect of the response.
“The most amazing thing was there was a 2005 graduate student who came to me and said how appreciative he is for this article because he hasn’t found a time to come back and visit — 2005! Someone who graduated from Pitt when I was 4 in China,” Wang said. “So we are really proud of what we are doing and we also realized perhaps we have a community, we just need to find it.”
According to Wang, the news channel’s next venture is creating a promotional video for Pitt, not only to encourage Chinese international students to come back to campus “when the time is right,” but as a gift for 2021 graduates who may not be able to come back for a graduation ceremony.
Ge said he was moved when one of his friends told him that he wished he could have had another class at the Cathedral of Learning.
“As students who are still at Pitt, I think that we can show those students who are self-isolated to protect themselves and to be responsible for the health and security for the whole community,” Ge said. “We are responsible to show them some pictures about how beautiful Pitt has already become in the spring to give us more strength, just keep going on and believe that the pandemic will reach its end.”