While Yale and Harvard’s administrative policies sometimes mirror one another, Eli officials paid little attention last week when Harvard loosened its study abroad restrictions and said they do not plan to make a similar change.
Reacting to pressure from students and faculty, Harvard officials lifted restrictions for students’ school-affiliated travel to 12 countries considered unsafe by the U.S. Department of State. But it will still prohibit school-affiliated travel to 15 other countries – which bear the federal government’s strongest travel warning. Yale study abroad administrators said they have paid little attention to Harvard’s policy shift and do not plan to alter their present program.
The University’s restrictions, which are more extensive than Harvard’s, will remain the same this year, said Barbara Rowe, the director of Yale’s International Education and Fellowship Programs.
“We don’t know what Harvard has done,” Rowe said. “As far as I know, the University officers have no plans to change our policy.”
While Harvard bases its travel restrictions on warnings issued by the federal government, Yale uses its faculty to assemble its own list of travel restrictions. The list, updated three times a year, is compiled by a committee of faculty members, many of whom have personal or academic experience with the geographic areas under scrutiny. Yale bars travel to more than 60 countries and regions, while Harvard now restricts travel to 15. But students may petition the Task Force on Student International Travel to receive an exemption from these rules.
Yale students who present convincing reasons for travel to restricted countries usually receive the exemption, which means Harvard’s policy in practice may actually be more restrictive than Yale’s, Rowe said.
“We have only ever turned one student down,” Rowe said. “That is not to say that we will accept anyone. The students who have requested exception have done so very thoughtfully.”
The committee that revised Harvard’s study abroad policy discussed Yale’s program at length and found it troubling that Yale’s policy left open the possibility of the University endorsing study abroad in areas that the federal government deems dangerous, Harvard Director of the Office of International Programs Jane Edwards said.
“I think that a policy in which institutional representatives are making decisions that could contradict State Department guidelines is a strange situation,” Edwards said. “That opens up some questions that we’re not very comfortable with.”
Though the federal government may not consider all relevant factors when drafting its travel recommendations, Edwards said, U.S. guidelines are nonetheless an important tool for travel abroad safety.
Yale students said the University should allow its students to make their own decisions, regardless of government advice.
Zvika Krieger ’06 said he thinks Yale is right to require students looking to travel to dangerous countries to petition for special exemptions, but the University should not make its current policy any more restrictive.
“The University is in the right to require waivers,” Krieger said. “We can cry about it as much as we want, but the University has the right to cover it’s back … [but] they should do only what is legally required and not be overly paternalistic. We have parents for that.”
Other students said obtaining exemptions is not particularly difficult for qualified applicants.
Paige Austin ’06, who spent her junior year abroad in Syria, which was almost put on the restricted list because of the Iraq war, said the travel exemption committee is knowledgeable and adaptive to student needs.
“[The committee] is made up by faculty members who are pretty up on what’s going on,” Austin said. They’re actually a little more liberal than the state department list.”
But other students said they think obtaining an exemption is too difficult. Krieger said he initially wanted to go to Kashmir for a term abroad, but was discouraged from applying when he learned he would probably need to speak the language of the country, have visited Kashmir before and have contacts there in order to obtain an exemption.
“[I was] very frustrated,” Krieger said. “If Yale expects [its students] to be leaders of our generation and deal with some of the most complex issues in the world, we need to get first-hand exposure to these conflicts, so Yale should not be making it difficult to do that.”
Austin said most students who are knowledgeable about the difficulties they may encounter when traveling to restricted countries are permitted to go.
“My friend was able to study in Gaza,” Austin said. “She had been before, she knew what to do, how to go through checkpoints.”
Of all the countries Yale restricts, Rowe said, Israel receives among the most attention from students looking to travel abroad.