Inevitable social stigma accompanies Ebola virus

Samantha Arriola and Edith Emeralda / Contributing Writers

Ike Isedebe was at the movies with a group of his African American friends when one of them sneezed. Someone replied, “Oh, Ebola, get away from me,”  said Isedebe, who is a member of the African Studies Organization and the chief of staff of UNT’s Student Government Association.

Of the 36,221 students enrolled at UNT, 3,081 are international, according to the International Student Statistical Report from the fall semester of 2013.

Esedebe has family from the United Kingdom as well as Nigeria, which is one of the top 10 countries represented at UNT. Only 7 percent of international students are from Africa. While the disease has become widespread in West Africa, the social stigma around the Ebola disease has become extreme at UNT and in the DFW area.

“It may have been a joke, but still, it’s a touchy subject,” Isedebe said. “Due to stereotypes and how society views things, people naturally associate [Ebola] with darker skinned people.”

Amanda Parent-Brito, a UNT Resident Assistant of Mozart Hall, voiced her opinion on Isedebe’s experience.

“Nobody should assume that only dark skinned people have it,” Parent-Brito said. “That’s really racist.”

Parent-Brito is from Dallas County and has family in Irving.

“A lot of jokes come from serious situations, so people will joke about it because it’s been so talked-up, but they need to be careful with what they say,” Parent-Brito said.

The ongoing situation is comparable to the stereotype that people use when relating AIDS to gay people, or SARS to Asian people, according to Beverly Davenport, an anthropology professor at UNT.

“Diseases get stuck onto a given group or ethnicity. Even though the problem extends far beyond those groups, the stigmatic disease remains,” Davenport said.

The Electric Eagle, a university satire and humor publication, published an online article about a UNT fraternity student who had been diagnosed with the Ebola virus. According to Herschel Voorhees, the director of clinical studies at UNT, the Health and Wellness Center received numerous phone calls in relation to this article.

“There are a lot of people that are very concerned about this disease,” Voorhees said. “But hopefully they won’t sensationalize it too much…Students just need to be more aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Voorhees said the healthcare system in the U.S. is more advanced than that of West Africa, so the disease isn’t as easily spread here. Students wanting to learn more about the disease can use sources such as the Health and Wellness Center or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Click below to view slideshow by Samantha Arriola and Edith Emeralda

Ebola and its Inevitable Social Stigma

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