University News

African Students Association holds walk to honor Ebola victims

Participants launch photo campaign, argue media ‘hysteria’ misrepresents disease’s impact on Africa

By
Senior Staff Writer

The African Students Association staged a walk through campus Sunday in honor of those who have died from the Ebola virus.

The walk comes after the group’s publishing of a letter Wednesday in Obsidian, a literary magazine about black culture, that stated, “too often have the narratives of dark skinned bodies been silenced, while the tales of white ‘saviors’ are amplified.”

“We have stood by as professors characterize this disease as an African disease, and as the world jokes of a killer that continues to decimate our people,” the group wrote in the letter.

AfriSA also launched an “#eraseEbola” photo campaign and Tumblr site Sunday night, featuring photos of students displaying messages like, “Would the Ebola memes be so funny if the 4,000+ dead were not African?” and “Ebola was a problem before it reached America.”

On its Sunday walk, the group stopped at various points on campus to share stories about victims of Ebola and their loved ones.

The group lined the walkways outside of Faunce and around the Main Green, then walked down Waterman Street, onto Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle, along Thayer Street and onto Wriston Quadrangle. After walking to the Van Wickle Gates, the group returned to the steps outside of Faunce for a song and a photo.

“The hysteria associated with this has put a damper on the fact that Ebola directly affects people at this institution,” said Bianca Duah ’16, president of AfriSA, reading aloud from a prepared statement outside Faunce. “What if Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone was home?”

“Today I walk, for those whose narratives are reduced to a photo on the New York Times,” she said.

Pausing on Simmons Quad, Dolapo Akinkugbe ’16 said he walked for Ameyo Adadevoh, who died working to contain the Ebola epidemic in Lagos, Nigeria at First Consultants Hospital, where Akinkube was born.

“While the media highlights the roles Western doctors play in the Ebola outbreak, often depicting them as white saviors, the media neglects to acknowledge the African health workers who are also out there risking their lives to fight Ebola,” Gloria Mensah ’18 read aloud to the group as she stood on Wriston.

Standing outside of the Van Wickle Gates, Maxwell Simeon ’17 stopped, saying that the death of Thomas Duncan, who contracted the first reported case of Ebola in the United States, could have been avoided. “He came into the hospital showing all the right signs of having contracted Ebola. But because he was without health insurance, he was sent away with some antibiotic and Tylenol,” Duncan said.

“When we got back to school, we realized that there wasn’t much attention on the Ebola issue,” Duah told The Herald, explaining the group’s decision to stage the walk. Though only 6 percent of the student body is black, many of that 6 percent are African, she added.

In light of other racial issues spoken about on campus, such as the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, Duah and other members of AfriSA’s executive board feel that black lives are not being treated as equally valuable to white lives, she said.

“I personally saw how it was impacting people’s lives,” Duah said of the hysteria over the Ebola outbreak, adding that as a resident of Manhattan, she saw people stop going to Liberian restaurants, or other restaurants that served African foods, in fear of contamination.

“I think there were a lot of misconceptions being perpetuated by social media,” she said, adding that, while only four or five countries in Africa have reported cases of Ebola, many people, including professors and students, assume the entire continent is experiencing the epidemic.

Though the walk was originally scheduled for last weekend, Duah said she and other leaders in the group realized pushing the event to this weekend would be beneficial because visiting parents would be able to see it, as well.

Members of AfriSA will also attend the candlelight vigil Wednesday organized by the Liberian Association of Rhode Island.

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