“Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases.”
It was with shock that 33-year-old Nigerian-American academic Idris Bello read this sentence, signaling the rejection of a friend’s Nigerian brother-in-law to the Texas community college based solely on his citizenship. “I didn’t believe it, I was so surprised. I thought: This cannot be,” Bello says.
A lead entrepreneur in Africa, with a master’s degree in global health from Oxford University, Bello received a copy of the letter from Dr. Kamor Abidogun, a mechanical engineer and friend of his in Houston. Abidogun’s brother-in-law also decided to apply to Navarro, and used his address as the point of contact. Along with the letter he received rejecting his 29-year-old brother-in-law, Abidogun received an identical one for his 20-year-old nephew, who had also decided to apply from Nigeria.
According to the letter, the small community college 20 miles outside of Dallas has decided to stop accepting students from places with confirmed cases of Ebola. Nigeria, it seems, is an odd place to enact that policy. The country of 174 million has only registered 20 total cases of Ebola since the index patient in July, a response so strikingly effective that the CDC dispatched a team to the country to study their methods.
Already through the first 21-day incubation period following the initial cases, the country is now just five days away from being officially declared by the World Health Organization as Ebola-free. Much of the response is believed to center around what WHO has declared “world-class epidemiological detective work,” which traced all 20 cases back to one passenger at the Lagos airport—ironically, an American.
Unlike its three most affected neighboring countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, citizens in Nigeria are under no threat of becoming infected with the disease within their borders, or at least no more than the threat we face in our country—and definitely not as much risk as an institution merely minutes away from its own outbreak.
Seven days after receiving the letter from Navarro, Abidogun had yet to break the “bad news” to his brother-in-law and his nephew. Neither applied to other universities. Living in Ibadan, Oyo State, neither are anywhere close to the small epidemic that swept through Nigeria in July—nor have either of them ever visited the most affected countries.
While Bello says he’s faced this kind of misinformed fear himself—he was recently stopped at a gym in Houston and asked if he’s Liberian, for example—he was most shocked to find an actual college making the same judgments. “I’ve had several people in the community act that way, but this is the first time I was going [heard] that from an institution,” says Bello. “An institution of learning, for that matter.”
He wasn’t the only one appalled by the news. When Bello posted the letter on his website, many took to Twitter to express similar feelings of disappointment. “@NavarroCollege so you won’t be accepting any Americans given Texas has confirmed cases? Seems like your enrollment will plummet. #messedup,” wrote one user. “I’m sure they didn’t mind discriminating against students from Africa beforehand, but this just gives them a new easy out,” posted another. “What a gross display of open bias. They descended too low. My brother, just choose another school,” said a third.
For Bello, spreading the message of this case isn’t about Navarro. Instead, it’s about influencing how American universities handle the epidemic in relation to their admissions moving forward. “I understand the fear about Ebola, but we’re not going to tackle epidemics by being scared or by misinformation, it’s going to be true education,” says Bello. “They are teaching students to be leaders in the future. Someone from that school needs to step forward and say, listen we made a mistake we are going to fix that mistake.”
UPDATE: Navarro College sent The Daily Beast the following statement—Our college values its diverse population of international students. This fall we have almost 100 students from Africa. Unfortunately, some students received incorrect information regarding their applications to the institution. As part of our new honor’s program, the college restructured the international department to include focused recruitment from certain countries each year. Our focus for 2014-15 is on China and Indonesia. Other countries will be identified and recruitment efforts put in place once we launch our new honors program fall 2015. We apologize for any misinformation that may have been shared with students. Additional information regarding our progress with this new initiative will be posted on our website.