Opinion: "Clemson has Ebola” Shirt Plagued our Name

Dear Classmate,

I tried to take a decent picture of you, not to add to my Snapchat story like so many others did, but to head this letter. I wanted to show the world how insensitive you are, not how funny. Unfortunately, I realized that pointing my iPhone in your direction would give you a level of satisfaction I just didn’t want you to have. I want you to know that jokes about Ebola aren’t funny and that you made our entire student section look bad.

Your “Clemson has Ebola” shirt, far from being funny, was horrendously offensive. Your poor choice of clothing reflected negatively on our school and our team. I hope you feel some level of remorse. Sure, I wanted nothing more than for our team to upset Clemson, but I didn’t feel the need to make an awful and insensitive joke to make that point.

There is nothing funny about Ebola. In fact, more than 4,500 people have died. Lol? Not exactly. At first, I was offended; I was angry that you got so much positive attention from the crowd at halftime, as your joke came at the expense of more than 4,500 victims, not including those who are still alive and have been affected. I know you can’t see the people who have died or who are living on the frontlines of the fight against Ebola, and to you, that might make it okay to joke about.

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr

The fact of the matter is that Ebola is anything but funny. The human survival rate averages around 50%, though it ranges from 25-90%, and it thrives in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the healthcare system is nowhere near as well-equipped to deal with an outbreak as that of the United States. These countries lack the infrastructure, public health education and manpower to fend off any epidemic, let alone one as powerful as Ebola.

Not only are people dying, children are being orphaned, left alone and scared in entire communities that have been wiped out by a horrific disease. If Americans were dying in droves from something that we did not know how to control, we wouldn’t be laughing about it, we’d be terrified.

I know that you, like most Americans, have probably not taken the time to learn the first thing about Ebola. You, as an American, won’t have to decide whether to save yourself or to take care of your dying family members and risk becoming infected with a disease that will almost certainly kill you. You won’t be denied a space at a hospital because it is overcrowded, and your doctors will have had training about how to deal with infectious diseases and to prevent their spread.

According to the World Health Organization, the world’s greatest weapon against Ebola is community engagement. This means public health education on how the virus spreads and how to handle infected loved ones. It includes social mobilization, which is pretty difficult to get going with almost no resources and little in the way of telecommunication. As we sit in our dorm rooms in America and watch TV news about how Ebola spreads, realizing that we are all in very little danger, the people who really need to learn how to deal with Ebola have little to no access to information.

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr

Because you have the privilege of being an American college student, you got to expand your ego as you made a joke about something that has killed thousands of people. I know those people might not matter to you because they live in a faraway place that you know as Africa, but 4,500 lives is 4,500 lives no matter where they came from or who they were. And the tragic loss of 4,500 lives is not funny.

If you still don’t care about the 4,500 people who have died in “Africa,” let’s talk about your sportsmanship. You could have stood in the crowd with the rest of us, worn your Superfan shirt and sang “For Boston” those two times we scored. Instead, you chose not only to target the other team, but also to do so by making a joke about something that has killed too many people already and doesn’t show any signs of relenting soon. You made yourself look bad, you made our school look bad, and I don’t believe in sports-related superstitions, but maybe there would be some poetic justice in you being the reason we lost.

Tina Fey wannabe. Occasional Bostonian. MBTA Superfan.

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