Ebola fear leads UGA to cancel Liberian journalist’s visit

The University of Georgia cancelled the Oct. 23 guest lecture of an award-winning Liberian journalist after concerns were raised that it could expose students and the campus community to the Ebola virus.

Wade C.L. Williams was to set to deliver the McGill lecture to talk about her experiences covering the Ebola crisis. An editor for Front Page Africa, a news website and newspaper in Monrovia, Liberia, she works in one of the hardest hit West African countries with close to 2500 deaths reported this year from the virus.

On Oct. 13, the university touted her upcoming visit, co-sponsored by the journalism school, on its website. But just days later, in the face of concerns from parents and the public, UGA announced her trip would be postponed and the McGill lecture would be delivered by Washington Post reporter Todd Frankel. Frankel covered the Ebola crisis earlier this year.

The university issued a statement saying the change was out of an abundance of caution.

“She was disappointed but greatly understanding,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of the Grady College. “We will have her here after the crisis is over. We are deeply dedicated and committed to learn from her perspective.”

Efforts to reach Williams on Sunday were unsuccessful. In a story on the Front Page Africa website, she was quoted saying an official at UGA told her that parents were panicking and the public was concerned about her visit.

“They felt they could not wear the barrage of criticism that would be directed at them if they allowed a Liberian journalist who covers Ebola on their campus,” she is quoted as saying.

Davis said they were a long way from panic, but there were concerns expressed about bringing someone directly from Liberia. She would have been within the 21-day incubation period that has been outlined as a possible risk period by public health officials, he said.

Davis said the story from Dallas where hospital nurses became infected after treating a traveler from Liberia contributed to the heightened concerns.

“It just became abundantly clear we had a risk scenario and a situation on our hands that was a little more sensitive issue,” Davis said. “This is a postponement. We have every intention to have her after the Ebola crisis passes.”

UGA is not alone in making such a calculus. Syracuse University last week rescinded an offer to a Washington Post photojournalist who had been scheduled to participate in a journalism workshop. The journalist, Michel du Cille, expressed disappointment and concern about the hysteria, according to a story in the Post.

Williams, who was Liberian Journalist of the Year in 2013, said misinformation is fueling paranoia in the U.S. about the virus.

“Despite my disappointment, I’m not angry with the University of Georgia,” she said, according to Front Page Africa.

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