Rejecting All Nigerians?

Letter from college in Texas said all applicants from countries with Ebola were being turned away.

October 15, 2014

Nigerians and others are expressing outrage after letters surfaced from Navarro College, a community college in Texas, saying that all applicants from countries with confirmed Ebola cases were being rejected.

The letters were sent to several applicants from Nigeria by Elizabeth Pillans, director of international programs at the college. The letters said: "Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases."

Idris Bello, an advocate for Africans in the United States, circulated copies of the letter on social media, where they have attracted anger from many. He wrote on Twitter that "it's wrong to discriminate in admission decisions based on #EbolaFear."

While federal officials have urged that colleges take precautions when enrolling students from areas with Ebola, no federal health guidance has suggested across-the-board bans on those from any of those nations. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the "CDC is not recommending colleges and universities isolate or quarantine students, faculty, or staff based on travel history alone."

For those who have been in countries with Ebola within 21 days, the CDC recommends "a risk assessment" and appropriate action. But the guidance notes that anyone who has been out of a country with Ebola for 21 days without any symptoms does not have Ebola and "no further assessment is needed."

When CNBC started calling the college about the letters, the college at first did not respond, and later posted a statement on the college website for international students explaining why Nigerian students would be getting rejected.

"Our college values its diverse population of international students. This fall we have almost 100 students from Africa," the statement said. "Unfortunately, some students received incorrect information regarding their applications to the institution. As part of our new honors 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."


Inside Higher Ed sent emails to several senior college officials (including Pillans) asking how a senior official could have sent a letter to Nigerian applicants telling them they were automatically rejected if that did not reflect college policy, and what the college was doing about the "incorrect information" it had sent out. One official simply forwarded the statement and declined to answer additional questions.

Vic Johnson, senior advisor for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said via email to Inside Higher Ed that he was concerned such a rejection letter had gone out from a college. "It would be very unfortunate if any college were rejecting applications from countries that have cases of Ebola. Appropriate protective measures can be taken without resorting to such extremes," he said. "One assumes that this college is not rejecting all applicants from Texas where, of course, Ebola has also occurred."

Many colleges have been carefully monitoring the Ebola outbreaks and considering their policies. While relatively few American students travel to West Africa, many colleges have discouraged such travel.

Yale University is one of the institutions that has done so, but illustrates how difficult it can be to set policy on the issue. Two graduate students are just back from Liberia, where they had traveled to study the Ebola outbreak, leaving for Africa the day before Yale announced it was discouraging such travel.

The Hartford Courant reported that they volunteered to stay home for three weeks, but that Yale determined that this was not necessary.

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