Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Specialization

Clinical Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Paul Florin

Abstract

The 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic represented the largest outbreak in the history of the disease and it took a tremendous toll on the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone who were impacted by a disease that had never been seen in their part of the world. While the epidemic significantly impacted those three nations, reported cases also spread to African countries such as Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal, as well as countries in the western world, such as Spain and the U.S. prior to the West African epidemic. Ebola was perceived in the U.S. as a distant threat dramatized by the media and entertainment industries. However, the introduction of Ebola into the U.S. triggered intense national media attention and widespread public alarm. When the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in a man in Dallas, Texas, the public’s resulting fear was disproportionate to the actual risk of transmission. As fear of exposure increased, stigma affected both returning aid workers and persons from Africa living in or visiting the U.S. The purpose of the present study was to qualitatively explore the experiences of Sierra Leonean immigrants living in the U.S., in order to describe their experiences with Ebola-related stigma and perceived risk for Ebola as part of their ongoing acculturation experiences. The sample comprised of 15 individuals who originally emigrated from Sierra Leone. Individual interviews were used and descriptive content and thematic analysis was utilized in order to guide data analysis. Results revealed that while Sierra Leoneans in the U.S. did experience Ebola-related stigma and heightened perceived risk for contracting the Ebola virus during the epidemic of 2014-2016, it did not impact the participants’ sense of belonging and ongoing adjustment in the U.S.

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