Iraq may be one of the last places on earth parents want to send their children, but that will not deter Henry Hancock ’05 and the Yale College Students for Democracy from trying to persuade the University to end its ban on funding for travel to the war-torn country.
Eight members of the Yale College Students for Democracy met in the Berkeley College common room Monday night to discuss the possibility of sending a group of Yale students to Iraq in the near future to aid in reconstruction. Iraq is currently on Yale College’s list of countries restricted for undergraduate travel. The College will not sponsor undergraduate groups or award Yale-funded or administered undergraduate travel grants and fellowships to countries on the list.
At the Monday night meeting, the students discussed sending a petition to Yale President Richard Levin and the administration requesting a lifting of the travel ban, which was imposed on the recommendation of the University Advisory Committee on International Education. The U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for Iraq on Aug. 22, although all restrictions on U.S. passports have been lifted.
Hancock said now that the war is over, the continuation of the ban is contrary to Yale’s commitment to public service.
“Yale, with its stated goal to become the leading university in public service, should go about proposing a peaceful world and democracy and liberal ideas,” he said. “I think most Yale students realize that the U.S. has an obligation to support Iraq as much possible.”
The students said they are considering writing a fellowship or scholarship proposal that would support travel to Iraq for the summer or for the semester. In case their petition and possible fellowship proposal fail, the students also plan to pursue other avenues of funding and support, such as think-tank and private sector sponsors. They hope to eventually open up any travel opportunities to students who are not members of the Yale College Students for Democracy, Hancock said.
But Gustav Ranis, chairman of the University Faculty Advisory Committee on International Education, said unless the state of affairs in Iraq changes sometime soon, the committee will not consider advising the University’s officers to lift the travel ban. The committee makes recommendations to the University secretary and provost based on the State Department’s recommendations and other available information. Stanford and Princeton universities do not sponsor travel to countries with State Department travel warnings.
“Clearly, Iraq is considered a dangerous place,” Ranis said. “People are getting killed, even civilians. I think [the ban] is a reasonable precaution — We are, in a sense, responsible for the safety of students, even if their intentions are laudable.”
Hancock said he researched the possibility of traveling to Iraq on his own but was frustrated with the lack of opportunities for students. So he turned to the Yale College Students for Democracy to help him obtain Yale support.
“As of now, the only way to do that is through contacts in the government,” he said. “There’s no fellowships, no funding that’s helping students get to Iraq.”
The students said they need the University’s help for more than funding. Hancock and the other students at the meeting said they are interested in finding internships or jobs helping to rebuild the country in governmental or nongovernmental organizations, and the University could help them in this endeavor.
“I think we’re going to have a very difficult time finding these internships without the help of the University,” Robert Spiro ’06 said.
Nancy Ruther, secretary of the University Faculty Advisory Committee on International Education, said this year there will be an operating waiver process which would allow students to seek a waiver on the travel ban from the secretary and provost. Ruther said the student would have to gain the support of a particular grant or fellowship committee and then present his or her case to the University Faculty Advisory Committee.
But Kamal Sidhu ’04, who attended the meeting, said he hopes the organization’s efforts to lift the ban on Iraq will also help reform the College’s entire system of travel restrictions. Sidhu said he had wanted to travel to India but found that the College restricted funding for travel to any Indian state that borders Pakistan.
“I think it would be good to form a lobby group to show the administration that their funding restrictions are far too confined,” Sindu said.