Students examine the social consequences of disease

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Ryan Fischer | The Parthenon
(From left) Randy and Caryn Short listen to Grayce Behnke and Deben Shoup elaborate on their project on cancer stigma during the Stigma of Disease fair Monday inside the Memorial Student Center.

There are countless disorders and diseases that carry stigma, but the social consequences of those stigmas are often determined by the affliction itself than the person who carries it. In the basement of the Memorial Student Center, visitors were invited to experience these stigmas as if affected by them during the “Stigma of Disease” fair Monday. The event was sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, as well as the Honors College.

“The Stigma Fair is hoping to bring awareness to people with medical conditions for which they are shamed or blemished in some way, through no fault of their own,” said Dr. Maggie Stone, a sociology professor at Marshall whose honors class, “Stigma of Disease,” presented the event.

Honors students stood by and presented visitors with their respective booths that examined different diseases such as cancer, mental disorders and HIV. Stone said the objective of the fair was to shine a light on the stigmas people place on those afflicted by disease. Another purpose for the event was to raise awareness for the honors students so that, as professionals, they avoid stigmatizing. Stone used cancer as an example of social stigmas.

“Different kinds of cancers illicit different responses based on personal responsibility,” Stone said. “People who have lung cancer are often more shamed and blamed. People assume they are smokers, and that’s not always the case.”

“A big definition of stigma is having an ‘us,’ which is the conforming group, and people who are non-conforming being the ‘them,’” said Cameron Cottrill, a biology and pre-med student who based his booth around skin diseases, which often provide a visual mark to people who have been afflicted.

The booths came with interactive games and features that invited visitors to experience the stigma that is associated with the disease of their choice.

“We’re trying to simulate what it’s like to live with HIV,” economics major Alex O’Donnell said. O’Donnell’s booth invited visitors to a short series of challenges, such as hop-scotch and a brief quiz, made more difficult if participants were assigned to have HIV and whether they were on treatment for it.

“We tried to make a bunch of daily life activities and make it where the person with HIV and no medication has the most hassle,” O’Donnell said. “But the person without HIV has nothing at all, and can live life without stigma.”

O’Donnell said an additional stigma with HIV is that it is seen as a consequence of “sexual deviancy or drug use.”

Ryan Fischer | The Parthenon
Abagail Short, Jennifer Parsons and Adriana Cook roll the dice during the Stigma of Disease fair Monday inside the Memorial Student Center.

Mental disorders were one of the other kinds of diseases that’s stigma was assessed by the students.

The stigma for a mental disorder is “a little bit different,” Kristen Brown, a biology student at Marshall, said. “It’s not as obvious when someone might have anxiety or depression, and some people see it as if they might not actually have these disorders.”

“They might think that they’re not really sick,” added Tyler Bowman, a chemistry major. “People might think that with mental disorders you should just be able to tough it out and you shouldn’t need medication.”

“Emotional and mental pain can be more devastating than physical pain because it’s harder to find the cause of and to treat it,” Bowman said.

Bowman and Brown’s booth asked visitors to write out how they deal with anxiety on wearable notecards.

Visitors at the event were also given the opportunity to wear stickers, where they could write a stigma they feel has affected their personal life.

Stone said she hopes visitors of the fair learned that “we can increase our awareness and sensitivity, and treat persons who experience these kinds of disorders with compassion and dignity.”

Austin Creel can be contacted at [email protected]

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