Following the passage of anti-gay legislation in Uganda, Yale has suspended all sponsorship, credit and funding for undergraduate summer activities in that country.
Last Monday, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda approved an anti-gay bill that has attracted widespread condemnation by the international community. Following the bill’s passage, a committee of five Yale administrators met to discuss appropriate steps for the University and decided to suspend all Yale College-affiliated projects in Uganda. Administrators interviewed said the move was not intended as a form of institutional protest but rather as a precautionary measure to ensure undergraduate safety. But most students interviewed said they think the University was excessively cautious in taking this step.
“We don’t have a rule about a state’s political state or its policies, but the problem was the language and terms of the [Uganda] legislation — it’s explosive,” said Jane Edwards, dean of international and professional experience and Yale College senior associate dean.
Although media attention around the bill has focused on the fact that it bans homosexual activity, the language of the Anti-Homosexual Law also permits the imprisonment for up to seven years of anyone who “attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices.”
Edwards said the committee — which comprises representatives from the General Counsel’s office, The MacMillan Center, the Office of International Affairs, and the Center for International and Professional Experience — made their decision upon receiving both recommendations from the State Department and MEDex, a private firm that advises the University on managing travel risk and safety. On Friday, the State Department released a statement advising U.S. citizens to reconsider their travel plans to Uganda because the Embassy in Kampala could not confidently predict how strictly the law will be implemented.
Though many countries have anti-gay legislation on the books, Edwards said the rhetoric and zeal surrounding Uganda’s legislative debate have made it difficult for the University to assess how intensely the law will be enforced with regards to foreigners.
“According to this bill, you could be prosecuted if you even just support LGBT rights,” said Director of Undergraduate Services Jeanine Dames.
Both Edwards and Dames expressed disappointment that College-affiliated internships and programs were suspended at a time when Yale’s footprint in both Uganda and Africa more broadly was growing. But they added that if time proved that it was relatively safe to work in Uganda, Yale would reinstate its programs.
Although administrators at the graduate schools were consulted on the decision to suspend summer activities in Uganda, no similar embargo has been adopted by Yale’s graduate schools.
Tracy Rabin, co-director of a bilateral exchange program between the Yale School of Medicine and the Makerere University in Uganda, said the School of Medicine will continue sending medical students, residents and faculty to Uganda despite the moral concerns that the new law raises.
“Although I understand the issues raised, I don’t believe this will be a security concern for us because we have prepared our folks to be culturally competent,” Rabin said, adding that in every orientation program she stresses to her students that Uganda is a culturally conservative society. “I also understand that undergraduate institutions need to be more cautious in sending out students.”
Edwards said the contrasting approaches taken by the graduate schools and Yale College represent the broader differences between the undergraduate and graduate experiences. If a graduate student’s focus revolves around issues in Uganda, summer travel there would be unavoidable, she said.
But three students who either applied for or were considering internships in Uganda said the University was being excessively cautious.
“I’m a little confused because I’m not sure how anti-gay legislation would translate to a security risk for people,” Michelle Angwenyi ’16 said.
Javan Felix ’16, a student from Kenya, said part of the decision might stem from broader misconceptions that people in America have about Africa. He added that many of his friends believe the stereotype that all parts of Africa are very dangerous places to live and work.
Edwards said that whenever the University makes these calculations, there is invariably a balance between risk and common sense. At this point in the timetable, when students still have ample time to change their summer plans, Edwards said it made sense for the University to be cautious. But if this law had been passed during the summer while undergraduates were already working in Uganda, the University would not have pulled the students out, she explained.
Dames said that although it was unfortunate that UCS had to terminate the three Uganda-based internships it had already posted on Symplicity, she is grateful that it is still early enough in the year for students to find alternate experiences.
UCS has recently expanded its sponsored opportunities in other African countries such as Ghana and South Africa, she added.
Dames added that her office will make a concentrated effort to help students whose plans have been disrupted by the news find other opportunities.
Three students interviewed who worked in Uganda last summer said they had valuable experiences and expressed regret that these internships are not available this year.
“I really enjoyed my time in Uganda, I learned a lot and it was a very unique experience,” Connor Buechler ’15 said. Still, Sarah Rosales ’14 said students could gain many of the same insights by interning in another country in East Africa.
Johanna Barba ’13, who worked with UNICEF in Uganda last summer, said it was unlikely the law would affect expatriates because they are often held to a different moral standard. Even when Uganda’s legislature was debating whether to make homosexuality a capital offense last summer, Barba said she never felt threatened.
Eight undergraduates had internships or fellowships in Uganda last summer.