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African Student Union to host Ebola panel discussion

On Thursday, October 30, the African Student Union, in collaboration with the International Student Organization will be hosting an Ebola panel discussion and presentation in the Fuglestad Auditorium (Jones 212) from 7-8 p.m. According to Senior Sia Mbatia, a board member of the African Student Union, the presentation will consist of a panel of speakers from a three different areas: biology professor Dr. Aho, religion professor Dr. Hammerling, and economics professor Oluwanifesimi Fatoba.

This event falls in line with the goals of the African Student Union, a group, according to Mbatia that aims to raise awareness and educate about issues concerning Africa and its people. The African Student Union, along with the International Student Union, are open to all students, not just exchange student, Mbatia said, and can provide rich learning opportunities for students who may not know much about foreign countries or the breadth of diversity within them.

According to Mbatia, this panel is in place to raise awareness on issues affecting African countries. Mbatia also hopes this event will help people will gain a better understanding about the Ebola outbreak and its ramifications not only on health but also the economy.

“I think when people understand what it (Ebola) is, then they will be able to react appropriately,” Mbatia said.

Aho, a microbiologist with a history of bacterial research, has been staying up-to-date with the Ebola epidemic and plans to provide scientific information about the Ebola virus. Though Aho believes that the information regarding Ebola in the media has been scientifically accurate, she thinks that the media has been disproportionately focused on the U.S. cases rather than the numerous cases that have been affecting countries in Africa.

“The epidemic continues to be a subset of countries in West Africa, so I think it is important for everyone to continue to pay attention to what is happening here,” Aho explained.

Mbatia, too, believes it is important for the Concordia community to be aware of the Ebola outbreak and its ramifications. Proximity plays a major role in how people perceive the outbreak, according to Mbatia, since it is easy for students to forget about the epidemic if it does not directly affect them.

“Unless something happens here (at Concordia) people are not going to know about it, think about it or talk about it. Unless you are in a nursing class or biology class with Dr. Aho, you won’t think about it (Ebola) everyday or every week,” Mbatia said when explaining the importance of attending the event.

Hammerling, another panel member, plans to draw connections between the recent Ebola outbreak and the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague that prompted theologian Martin Luther to create his treatise, otherwise known as a personal analysis on a specific topic,  “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” (1527). Hammerling explains that in his treatise, Luther provides insights on how communities should react to deadly outbreaks and how, out of a sense of responsibility, need to utilize their individual strengths to care for those who are affected by disease.

Other insights made by Luther include “Godly works” which include working to bring people together to promote order and structure, whilst “devilish works,” thrive upon panic, fear,= and chaos, Hammerling explained.

Though Luther was writing about the Black Plague, Hammerling thinks there are still connections that could be made to the recent Ebola outbreak and society’s reaction to the epidemic, such as the way news media can bring about fear and people seeking to flee the disease.

“Maybe we can draw some conclusions from Luther’s comments at that time to think about what sorts of responsibilities do we as people in the 21st Century have to a similar sort of plague or disease,” Hammerling said.

Mbatia said that a third perspective, regarding the economic impact Ebola has placed on afflicted African countries will also be discussed during the event.

“For instance, if a certain village is affected, people don’t want to go do business there … It’s not only just people dying in a way, but there are other effects also,” Mbatia said.

Overall, Mbatia said students attending the event can expect to hear from a variety of perspectives and approaches regarding Ebola and its impact.

“I think the African Student Union event on Ebola is an excellent idea, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary examination of this situation,” Aho said.

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