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For African international and first-generation students at Penn, Ebola is more than just a news topic.

Many of these students are frustrated with how the media covers the virus and the overall lack of discussion on campus about Ebola-affected countries.

Kevin Rugamba said. “Others think we [African students on campus] may have potentially been exposed to the virus, but that’s not the case. There are no cases of Ebola in South Africa. None in East Africa. None in North Africa. African students would appreciate if there was more informed awareness of the crisis.”

Rugamba was born in Uganda and raised in Ivory Coast.

College sophomore and first-generation Guinean Oumourumana Jalloh said that the constant media coverage has another negative consequence: “When Ebola breaks out in third world countries, it defines that country. Now, there is a negative connotation to someone who identifies as a Guinean or Liberian. If I travel or go somewhere, do I really want to say I’m Guinean? The media makes it seem like all Guineans have Ebola.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , not all of Guinea is even affected — only areas of Southeast Guinea bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory coast, as well as three smaller areas in the western part of the countries near the coast.

Jalloh has grandparents and relatives back in Guinea, one of three West African countries affected by Ebola. “I am thankful none of my relatives are dying from Ebola,” Jalloh said. “But just knowing that family is there, it is on my mind a lot. There’s really no way to ignore the issue, especially with constant media coverage of the disease.”

College senior Oyinkansola Muraina said there is a need for more discussion about Ebola on campus. “I don’t think the majority of students are engaging critically with the crisis. I’ve heard some problematic comments on campus,” Muraina said. “People are primarily concerned with making sure it doesn’t come to them. We all need to remember that we are all vulnerable as long as it continues to ravage communities in other parts of the world.”

Muraina, whose entire extended family lives in Nigeria, recalls her experience being in the country this past summer when a couple of Ebola cases broke out. “It caused a mild hysteria. Everyone was distributing hand sanitizer and warning each other to drink or bathe with salt water. Two people actually died from drinking too much salt water. However, all of the Ebola cases have been handled since,  and there are no more cases in Nigeria,” she said.

Penn Muslim minister Kameelah Rashad has counseled many African students who worry about the crisis in West Africa and agrees that the lack of discussion is troubling. “Is a student supposed to assume that because there’s no discussion, it’s not important?” Rashad asked. “It is difficult for students who must tend to two worlds, the one back in Africa and the Penn world, where they are expected to do well in all of their classes and extracurriculars.”

Going forward, the Penn African Student Association plans to address this need. Recently, the African student group at Brown University reached out to PASA, and the two groups are working to spread information on campuses and to send support to Ebola-affected countries.

“African students here represent the continent. We don’t want to just sit here idle when there are things we can do to support relief efforts,” Rugamba said. “It’s the least we can do.”

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