Travel Warning cancels Northwestern study abroad programs in Mexico

Jessica Allen

Weinberg sophomore Neal Emery was on track to study in Mexico this summer as a part of the International Program Development’s Public Health in Mexico program.

Then he received an e-mail from the group’s travel service Monday around 2 p.m. informing him his airline ticket had been suspended, Emery said. After initial confusion, he said he called IPD and was told about 4 p.m. the e-mail was correct and he would instead be going to Chile.

“Obviously, I’m a little upset that they’re changing it so last minute,” Emery said. “There’s not any time to look into other things.”

Mexico has now joined a list of countries including Israel, Haiti and Kenya where Northwestern will not support student travel.

The countries are blocked because of NU’s Travel Warning policy, which states NU “will not operate, pay for, supervise, direct, or otherwise support a study abroad program, research program, or other course or program for any students (undergraduate, graduate, professional) in a portion of a country where a Department of State Travel Warning is in effect.”

“We take the State Department’s watch list as a basis on which we would permit a University-approved study abroad program to go forward,” Provost Daniel Linzer said.

He said any countries on the University’s watch list that differ from that of the Department of State are an addition rather than an exception. “It would affect undergraduates who are seeking to do a University-approved program, which could include an internship or research grant.”

The Public Health in Mexico program was canceled because of an April 12 State Department Travel Warning about violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The travel warning mainly refers to the northern region of Mexico, but Linzer said warnings of only specified areas of a country don’t affect the University’s decision in blocking NU-affiliated travel to the country’s entirety.

“It’s very hard to restrict what happens when people are inside of a country,” he said.Even if students signed waivers to relieve NU of responsibility, the University would still be at risk in a legal situation if something went wrong, Linzer said.

NU has two study abroad programs in Mexico: the IPD Public Health program in Mexico City and a program in Mérida at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, which is currently not accepting applications due to the Travel Warning.

One of the reasons Emery said he was confused about the cancelation of the Public Health program is because of an e-mail IPD Program Director Devora Grynspan sent March 24 that said travel warnings for Mexico wouldn’t affect the program.

Grynspan said the Office of the Provost recently decided and informed IPD they must cancel their program.

“I have looked at other universities to see what they were doing and of course I talked to my colleagues in Mexico City,” Grynspan said. “The Travel Warning doesn’t mention Mexico City.”

Grynspan said she has tried to get NU to re-evaluate the travel warning policy but has been unsuccessful.

“NU interprets travel warnings as applying to whole countries, so it takes a different position from other schools,” she said.

The University allows an exception to the policy for individual faculty members, staff members or graduate students whose professional activities “necessitates travel to a portion of a country where a Travel Warning is in effect,” but undergraduates can’t be enrolled at NU if they choose to go on a non-NU-affiliated program in a country on the watch list.

Students would thus be unable to receive financial aid. In addition, some study abroad programs require that students have academic approval.

Blocking countries as potential travel sites doesn’t academically hinder students because there are enough options for students to study in other countries, Linzer said.

Other universities have only canceled programs in the northern region of Mexico, Grynspan said.

According to Butler University’s website, the Travel Warning for Mexico “does not affect IFSA-Butler’s programs, which are located in tranquil areas many hours from the cities to which the warning applies.”

Linzer said the administration has a responsibility to students and the institution to apply the State Department’s Travel Warnings.

“I love the program in Mexico,” he said. “It’s a big disappointment to us, to the students. This is not a decision any of us are pleased to make.”[email protected]