When five students from the multicultural center were hanging out and studying during their weekly “Feel Good Fridays” event, the last thing they expected was to be struck by a torrent of fear, anger and confusion.
As Howa Mohammed, a junior health sciences major, peered out of the center she was shocked to see two people walking down the hall wearing Ebola nurse hazmat suits. Howa Mohammed and several of her friend’s minds instantly went to the worst case scenario: there’s been an outbreak.
“It was terrifying, for a second we thought the area was being quarantined,” said Howa Mohammed.
“I remember my heart was beating so fast,” said Hamdi Hassan, a freshman history major. “They could have caused hysteria.”
Upon realizing that the two hazmat suits were just students in costume for the SNOtober Fest, a yearly costume party organized by the student nurses organization, the girl’s fear quickly turned to anger and disgust.
“We kept hoping that they were astronauts and then we were told that they were meant to be ebola nurses,” said Mohammed. “It just seemed so preposterous and insensitive that someone came up with that costume idea.”
According to Idman Abdulkadir, a junior communications major, choosing a costume like that is extremely rude and offensive, especially in a time where the ebola virus is eradicating the lives of several thousand people around the globe. According to the center for disease control, Ebola has killed more than 4,800 people in West Africa alone, and many people in the states have family that are affected by those deaths.
In an attempt to deal with their anger and confusion in a respectful and non-confrontational way, Hassan called upon her friend Leila Mohamed, a USM graduate and intern at the multicultural center, to approach the nurses and convey their discontent. Leila Mohamed, well versed in how to communicate sensitive issues and combat micro aggression, felt well equipped to talk to the nurses and express her and her friend’s feelings in a respectful way.
“I’ve worked for Portland Student Life for two years now, so I’m well trained in civility and how to avoid conflict,” said Leila Mohamed. “I didn’t demand that they take off their costumes. I just peacefully asked them to recognize the impact of their actions, because some students were really shaken up.”
According to Leila Mohamed, seeing a costume of an ebola nurse can act as a trigger for some people.
Leila Mohamed said that she expected the nurses to be apologetic and understanding, but they were instead passive and slightly rude. Instead the nurses replied that they were just having fun and the whole costume was just a joke. According to Abdulkadir, one of the costumed nurses said “This is America, we have rights.”
Then, in what Abdulkadir called “the worst part of the night,” the cops were called.
After addressing the issue and returning to their study center, the multicultural girls were surprised to see a cop approaching them.
“They took it to the next level by calling the cops,” said Leila Mohamed.
“It was the last thing we expected them to do, and by doing that, we feel like they made into a race issue, when it originally wasn’t one,” said Hassan.
The campus crime report, reads that a “report of an altercation” was taken that day in Woodbury campus center.
According to Abdulkadir, a cop was dispatched because the nurses felt threatened by multicultural students and considered them to be dangerous. Abdulikar and the rest of her friend group believes that they were labeled as a threat because of their race.
“Why would they feel threatened by some girls approaching them and calmly addressing an issue?” asked Abdulkadir. “ When we’re provoked and don’t respond with anger, we’re still labeled as the aggressors. It’s so unfair.”
Abdulkadir believes that if she and her friends were white that this situation would of been resolved without the police. According to Abdulkadir, many people she knows have to go through this incidents of racial micro-aggression on a daily basis.
“They called the police on the people that were offended the most; it makes no sense,” said Abdulkadir. “This school is supposed to foster an environment where students can feel comfortable and safe.”
After reaching out to Abigail Krolak the organizer of the event and a student nurse that was in attendance, they both declined to comment.