In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, numerous warnings have been issued by the State Department for Americans traveling abroad. While “Williams in Georgia” and other Winter Study classes with trips to the Middle East have been cancelled, some students are still traveling abroad for 99s.
Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, said that the decision to cancel Winter Study travel courses is made by the president, the deans of the Faculty and the College, the Provost, the vice president and treasurer and vice president of development.
She noted that last year the senior staff made a ruling that if any country was placed on the State Department’s warning list, Winter Study travel courses to that country would be cancelled. The professor teaching the course can appeal this decision because, according to Roseman, “sometimes, countries are placed on the warning list for political reasons, so we felt it important to have a mechanism to assess why a particular country is placed on the warning list.”
Students enrolled in the “Williams in Georgia” trip received notification only last Wednesday that the course had not been approved. Rhianon DeLeeuw ’04, who had signed up for the course, said she had heard that other schools were cancelling their study abroad programs and was not surprised at the school’s decision.
“I had debated for a long time whether or not to still go to Georgia and I decided that the College would not be sending me anywhere unsafe and so it would be okay to go,” she said.Â
“Plus, the professor in charge of the program assured me numerous times that at the present time we would be fine going to Georgia. Odds are we would have been perfectly fine, but it makes sense that the College has to follow the State Department Warnings.”
Last year, the travel Winter Study to Israel and Jordan was cancelled and was not offered again for this Winter Study term.
According to Matthew Kraus, a professor of classics, who was to lead the trip, “The trip was cancelled by [President Schapiro’s] staff because the U.S. State Department issued a Travel Warning recommending that ’U.S. citizens defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.’”
The State Department’s website has a list of such warnings (http://travel.state.gov/warnings_list.html), which, according to Kraus, are stronger than travel “cautions.”
Although Kraus appealed the decision, since he had been assured by contacts in Israel and Jordan that the area was safe, the president’s staff refused to allow the trip to take place.
“While the administration definitely recognized the tremendous intellectual merit of this travel winter study, I think that there was a powerful concern about the safety of those participating in the trip,” Kraus said.
“Although I strongly disagreed with the president’s staff final decision, I deeply respect their fair and judicious process that sought to balance the College’s educational mission with a profound concern for human life.”
He greatly hopes that the trip will return, pending the cancellation of the travel warning, adding that he and his family traveled to Israel this past summer, saying “We felt comfortable there, despite some terrible events that occurred.” He mentioned that his family took extra precautions and “has no plans of deferring [future] travel to Israel.”
While freshmen must stay on campus during the January term, upperclassmen may engage in classes that take them to places as far away as Cuba, Japan and Greece. Students may also submit a 99, an independent project with a faculty sponsor. Often, students may propose a 99 where traveling abroad is essential to the academic endeavor.
Despite the cancellation of some College-sponsored trips, many students received approval for and intend to pursue Winter Study 99s that include travel abroad.
“The Committee did not take recent events into account when considering overseas 99s,” said James Mahon, professor of political science and a member of the Winter Study Committee.
Roseman said that, because the 99s are independent projects, they are not watched over in the same way a travel course would be.
She commented that, although no 99 has been cancelled, she and other faculty have been advising some international students about the possible difficulties they might face getting back into the United States.
“We worry that if circumstances change, the United States might not allow foreign students to return,” she said.
According to Mahon, the number of proposals for travel 99s did not decrease compared to previous years. He noted that the reasons Winter Study projects are rejected are because “the proposals show a lack of preparation. The reading list is inappropriate, the activity is vaguely described or the faculty sponsor is unenthusiastic.”
Barbara Casey of the Registrar’s Office and the Winter Study Committee added that the College has never rejected a student’s 99 because it was deemed unsafe and she would “be surprised” if the College did this. She also mentioned that it is too early to tell if students themselves will withdraw their 99 because of personal safety issues.
Roseman added, “There have been instances where we have counseled students that we think it unwise for them to go to a particular country, and that if they choose to go they do so at their own risk.”
Anne Newcomer ’04, a member of the Winter Study Committee, said “A number of students are traveling within the United States to New York City and other places, as well many in Western Europe, a few in Africa and Asia, and [possibly] South America.Â One student is conducting a project in Pakistan, as well.” Newcomer reiterated that no travel 99s were rejected because of fear for a student’s safety.
She added that several students are focusing on the consequences of and reactions to the recent terrorist attacks for their independent study projects.
“Far from discouraging Williams students from doing independent and/or travel projects for Winter Study, current events have inspired students to look beyond the Purple Bubble in their studies,” Newcomer said.
Eric Getty ’02 is going to Belfast in January to study how groups, particularly churches and faith-based organizations, are contributing to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“I have considered at length the risks of traveling at this time,” Getty said, “particularly the two-fold risk of terrorism against Americans and political violence within Northern Ireland.” He explained that he would be staying with an Irish family in order to better blend with the society.
He added, “I have also been told that since Sept. 11, people in Northern Ireland have been less willing to discuss their own political problems, and certainly there has been an increased will to work out their differences.”