College examines safety of study abroad programs
By Heather Szilagyi, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, January 7, 2013
A year after the death of Crispin Scott ’13, who passed away while on a transfer term in Barcelona, departments within the College and its graduate schools have explored ways to ensure student safety on study abroad programs, according to various administrators.
After Scott’s death, former College President Jim Yong Kim tasked Acting Associate Provost for International Initiatives Lindsay Whaley with examining student preparation before studying abroad, Whaley said.
Whaley led two meetings with administrators involved in international programs at all levels of the institution, including graduate programs.The motivation behind the meetings was a combination of Scott’s death and a routine review of policies and procedures, Whaley said.
Students traveling on Dartmouth programs — which, unlike transfer term programs, are affiliated with the College — must complete a health and safety orientation in addition to other pre-departure programs pertaining to student life abroad, Off-Campus Programs Director John Tansey said.
The Committee on Instruction and the Registrar’s Office are the two bodies that specifically handle transfer term students, and they only focus on academic instruction, according to Committee on Instruction Chair Hakan Tell and Registrar Meredith Braz.
Transfer term students do not have any mandated health and safety training, they said.
During the meetings, it became apparent that there was no collective effort to provide pre-departure health and safety training and no single place where students could locate relevant information about their study abroad programs, Dickey Center for International Understanding Student Programs Officer Amy Newcomb said.
There is little communication among departments, and some areas are so understaffed and under-resourced that they cannot provide adequate pre-departure safety training, she added.
The meetings demonstrated that there are already many effective measures in place on campus but that they are inconsistent, according to Whaley.
Additionally, it is difficult to ensure pre-departure orientations for certain groups of students, including those who are travelling independently or who are not on campus before their terms abroad, he said.
The Dickey Center was already in the process of creating three video modules pertaining to safety, health and wellness and emergency response for students travelling abroad, Newcomb said. Newcomb said she hopes the videos will form an online resource that will be useful to all students at Dartmouth, as opposed to the “individual travelers” the Dickey Center generally sends abroad, she said.
To produce the videos, the Dickey Center made a list of the information its staff felt all students travelling abroad should know and incorporated the points into the videos to make them applicable to everyone, she said.
While this undertaking can only be “very, very loosely” connected to Crispin’s death, Newcomb said that the Dickey Center realized that there were gaps in preparing students going abroad.
More students who are not involved with the Dickey Center and colleagues from around the College are now invited and attending to pre-departure sessions, she said.
Although health and safety are continually monitored by Off-Campus Programs, the meetings for administrators led by Whaley provide an opportunity to explore new ways to share resources, Tansey said.
Off-Campus Programs, which oversees Foreign Study Programs and Language Study Abroad, is looking to incorporate the Dickey Center’s work into their pre-departure programs, he said.
However, reaching students going on transfer terms still poses problems, Newcomb said.
“If someone is on a transfer term, they aren’t really looped into the system to know they can go to this training,” she said.
Additionally, there is no way to mandate participation from students travelling independently or with a non-Dartmouth program, Newcomb said.
Even if students are not traveling with Dartmouth, the College should still provide them with as much information as possible, Whaley said.
The College could impose a requirement or strongly encourage students to watch the videos and use online resources if administrators are determined to be effective, he said.
While the Registrar’s Office focuses on assisting students academically with their transfer terms, the office’s website encourages students and parents to research health and safety programs through the university they are studying with, Braz said.
“In terms of specifically health and safety measures, we recognize that these are not Dartmouth programs,” she said. “They are programs other institutions are supporting.”
The Registrar’s Office recently began working with the Dickey Center to make the pre-departure videos available to transfer term students, Braz said.
The College’s new policy limiting the number of College students on non-Dartmouth transfer terms is not a result of Scott’s death as the decision to change the application process was made before the incident, Tell said. The purpose of the new policy is not to address safety concerns but to ensure that the academic rigor of transfer terms is equivalent to Dartmouth programs.
“Students would go on programs without really having a clear sense of academically why they were there,” Tell said.
Pat Healy ’13, who completed a transfer term with the University of Sydney his junior year, said the Registrar’s Office was helpful in ensuring his academic credits would transfer but did not discuss safety with the approximately 20 students going on his program.
Since the program was not sponsored by Dartmouth, Healy said the Registrar’s office may not have been responsible for discussing such concerns with the students.
Overall, all students have access to pre-departure information, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that students take full advantage of the resources available, Newcomb said.