By Kaitlyn Lyngaas
Members of the Fordham community awoke on Monday to an email from the Executive Director of University Health Services, Kathleen Malara, M.S.N., F.N.P. The email cites concerns about Ebola as grounds for a new policy barring Fordham affiliates from traveling on university business to three West African nations: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Many students didn’t think twice upon reading this message. However, this policy presents problems for the entire university community.
When asked about the ban, Malara responded “It would be irresponsible for the University to endorse or permit travel to a region where medical experts at the CDC have deemed dangerous.” Yet, the director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, M.D, has been quoted saying that banning travel to West Africa will cause more problems than it will solve. Is it not irresponsible to ignore those warnings?
Dr. Melissa Labonte, associate professor of political science, is one faculty member with a vested interest in the region. She has worked extensively in West Africa and plans to return to Sierra Leone next year to conduct research. When asked about the ban, Labonte said “[This response] is not proportionate to the threat and disregards human dignity. It runs the risk of furthering ignorance and misunderstanding about how the disease is spread, and will inevitably add to the stigma felt by anyone associated with West Africa.”
Dr. Alexander van Tulleken, M.D., senior fellow at Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and public health expert, is also bothered by the policy. Van Tulleken believes that, “this kind of isolationism increases fear, decreases understanding, decreases the possibility of addressing the crisis and it does all this without improving our safety in any way at all.”
There is a stark difference between Fordham’s policy and the message put forth by Peter Salovey, president of Yale University. After a public health student returned from Liberia exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms, Salovey urged the Yale community to “offer gratitude and support” to those choosing to aid in the relief efforts.
Like Yale, Fordham boasts a long tradition of service. Unlike Yale, Fordham is a Jesuit institution that professes to uphold Ignatian principles. This policy appears to be in direct conflict with at least one (homines pro aliis) if not more tenets of a Jesuit education.
Our beloved Rev. Joseph M. McShane, President of the university urges Fordham students from day one to “go and set the world on fire.” The Jesuit principles on which Fordham was founded, and on which we pride ourselves today, should not be so easily abandoned in times of crisis. We are constantly told that we should be bothered by the injustice we see in the world, but that starts at home.