Junkfood Science: Political correctness teaching prejudice

November 26, 2008

Political correctness teaching prejudice

University students voted to discontinue its fundraiser for a genetic disease that cuts short the lives of young people. The reason they gave is what has caught attention: the victims of the disease aren’t the right color or gender. The Carlatan University Students' Association said the disease is not “inclusive” enough.

The student newspaper, The Charlatan reported, that the student council voted on Monday — with a vote of 17 to 2 — to abandon its 25-year Shinerama fundraising tradition, which has raised nearly $1 million for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation since the mid-1990s. More than 60 Canadian universities and colleges have participated in Shinerama since its inception in 1964, raising about $19 million for CCFF, which has become one of the leading, non-governmental granting agencies for cystic fibrosis research and medical care. When CCFF was founded in 1960, CF victims died in infancy with no treatments available. Today, and the average survival has risen to just over 35 years.

This student council motion was proposed by Donnie Northrup, a fourth-year “integrated science” student representative from the Faculty of Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, claiming cystic fibrosis is a white man’s disease:

Motion to Drop Shinerama Fundraising Campaign from Orientation Week

Whereas Orientation week strives to be [as] inclusive as possible;

Whereas all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve the their diverse communities;

And Whereas Cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men

Be it resolved that: CUSA discontinue its support of this campaign

Be it Further Resolved that the CUSA representatives on the incoming Orientation Supervisory Board work to select a new broad reaching charity for orientation week.

Moved: Donnie Northrup

The public comments from the leadership of the student council supported the move: “We have a diverse community,” the vice president of the Charlatan University Students Association told the student newspaper. “We need something that is more representative of the greater student [body] than just one small group… we need to appeal to a larger demographic.”

Like all prejudices, racism is based on ignorance and this incident is no different. The students had failed to research cystic fibrosis [which is pretty amazing given how much information is readily available online*] or understand what is meant by the fact that this inherited disease afflicts a higher proportion of “Caucasians.” That term in population research refers to people from widely varied race/ethnicities and is not a measure of skin color. As Cathleen Morrison, head of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said on a CTV television report, the term “Caucasian” includes people from South Asia, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Israel. [CF also afflicts significant numbers of Latinos and Native American peoples.]

“It includes people with a whole rainbow of skins,” Ms Morrison said. She added that cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease among young people in Canada, and that it affects just as many girls as boys. In fact, women with the disease have shorter life spans.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease of the mucus and sweat glands and affects the lungs, pancreas, liver and intestines, causing mucus to be thick and sticky. It makes breathing terribly difficult, requiring intense respiratory therapy, causes repeated respiratory infections and leads to lung damage. Digestive functions are increasingly impaired. There is no cure yet and just a few decades ago, most victims didn’t survive childhood. Treatments have improved over recent years and now people with CF live, on average, to more than 35 years of age, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The true picture of CF bears no resemblance to the students' misconceptions. The photo archives of Cystic-L, an online information and support group for CF patients and families, poignantly illustrates that CF is a disease of babies, children and young adults:

Nick Bergamini, a third-year journalism student on the student council, was the only elected councilor present to vote against the motion. The decision is an example of campus political correctness gone too far, he told the Canadian news. He was the only one at the council meeting who appears to have understood the political divisiveness behind the students’ motion. “They're not doctors. They're playing politics with this,” he said. “I think they see this, in their own twisted way, as a win for diversity. I see it as a loss for people with cystic fibrosis.”

The Chronicle for Higher Education said this action has drawn widespread criticism, from Facebook to national newspapers. Andrew Steele wrote a sad article in the Globe and Mail about his deceased college friend with CF who had grown up in a household of adopted special needs kids. Jonathan Kay wrote in the National Post that CF is a horrible disease and most victims die in their 30s. “All of which would seem to make cystic fibrosis research a worthy cause, right?” He pointed out a picture of a little black girl with CF undergoing a respiratory treatment [side photo] and chastised the students for failing to do their homework. He then called them on their reverse racism:

But even if it were true that only white males got CF, what of it? We raise money for breast cancer even though it is primarily a female disease. We raise money for Tay-Sachs, even thought it strikes almost exclusively Jews. We raise money for AIDS, even though it disproportionately affects gays and blacks. That’s because we raise money to save people — not tribes…

Update: Donnie Northrup isn't backing down! He reportedly is telling Facebook pals that sticking with the CF funding would reflect "the same mentality that kept slavery legal, and prevented the women's vote."

Sadly, the racism card is increasingly being pulled out — often by privileged white healthy young people — without understanding, and often revealing their own prejudices. Political correctness has become its own form of prejudice, even towards elderly, poor, fat, minority, sick or disabled fellow citizens. But some students haven’t succumbed to popular political correctness. A small group of students has begun a campaign in support of Shinerama and confirmed that the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be devastated by losing Carleton’s support. Their slogan is: “Diseases don’t discriminate.”

Today, the student newspaper published a much less favorable article of the student council’s actions, writing it “is far more than disappointing — it is outrageously politically incorrect, never mind the fact that it's based on false information…. it will go down in history that CUSA and Carleton students are racist, sexist, uninformed and very narrow-minded.” The motion claiming the disease discriminates “just makes CUSA discriminatory.”

* Information on Cystic Fibrosis is just a mouse click away:
Azer’s Cystic Fibrosis Website [source of opening photo]
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
National Institutes of Health

From the CF Research, Inc.:
Foundations and Other Organizations about CF
United States Adult Cystic Fibrosis Association
The Milan Foundation
The Reach for the Stars Foundation
Heroes of Hope Living with CF
Second Wind Transplant Association of St. Louis
My Cystic Fibrosis dot com
Medrise's page
National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Committee
International Association of Cystic Fibrosis Adults
The Cystic Fibrosis Center at Stanford
The Boomer Esiason Foundation
Cystic Fibrosis Mutation Database
Cystic Fibrosis Genetic Analysis Consortium
Aetna InteliHealth's Cystic Fibrosis Genetic Testing Guide

Individuals and Groups
Ask James About CF
Dreamsurfer Network
65 Roses
Melinda Sue Kerns' site
CF message board
Risa Gans' site
Sandy Cochran's CF information site
Jeff Wine's page of CF links
CYSTIC-L internet
Norma Kennedy's page of CF Links Cystic Fibrosis Pharmacy
Hardin Meta Directory

Sites by people with CF
Michelle Compton's website
The Breathing Room

Cystic Fibrosis Prescriber (UK)
Cystic Fibrosis Resource Centre (UK)
Jose Pulido (en español)
The European Cystic Fibrosis Society
Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Cystic Fibrosis Victoria (Australia)

Newsletter list www.cysticfibrosis.com

NETWORK A national (USA), quarterly newsletter for adults with CF.
You may subscribe by contacting NETWORK at the address below. If you or your child(ren) have CF, please provide date of birth. Thank you. CF Network, Inc, P.O. Box 3459 Littleton, CO 80161-3459

Informer Produced by the CF Pharmacy in Florida (see above link). 16 pages, bi-monthly. Nicely home-spun. Informational but also informal. Pictures, mail-buddies, birthdays, etc. Bev Donelson at: bevd at hhcs dot com

CF Roundtable A newsletter put out by USACFA (US Adult CF Association). To subscribe email CFRoundtable@cysticfibrosis.com or call (503) 669-3561.

Bookmark and Share