Safety concerns have led the School for International Training (SIT), an organization providing study abroad programs attended by Bowdoin students, to have its use suspended by Ithaca College.
The announcement of the suspension on March 15 came as an Ithaca student, who studied at SIT's Jamaica site, plans to a file a lawsuit against SIT for maltreatment by its academic director, according to student newspaper The Ithacan. The student said the program's academic director was dismissive of threats to her safety and her requests to leave the program early, The Ithacan reported.
An Ithaca College representative did not respond to the Orient's requests for comment.
According to Director of Off-Campus Study Stephen Hall, Bowdoin does not have any students studying in Jamaica, through SIT or otherwise, and no Bowdoin students plan to study there next year either.
According to its Web site, SIT offers study abroad programs in about 50 countries. Thirteen of its programs are listed on Bowdoin's Complete Program Options List, and seven students are studying with SIT programs this semester in Spain, Australia, Chile, Cameroon, and Tanzania.
"I'm sure that if we did have students going to Jamaica we would take an extremely close look at conditions on the island and at what SIT had to say about how they're handling the issue," Hall said in an e-mail to the Orient.
John Fox, director of public relations at SIT, said that the organization is investigating the circumstances and has temporarily suspended its Jamaica program. It has also been in touch with the institutions that use its services, including Bowdoin.
"Bowdoin continues to be an important partner institution with us, and we've been in close contact with them and will continue to be," Fox said in a phone interview with the Orient.
Hall said that while he was not aware of Bowdoin ever having suspended its use of an organization's study away program (or a single program), safety issues do come up regularly and are handled on a case-by-case basis.
"Where the State Department has issued a travel warning for a country, we ask a student studying abroad in that country, and his/her parent, to sign a waiver in addition to the standard one, confirming that they are aware of the State Department's warning and accept the possibility of greater risk in that location," Hall wrote.
Hall added that "so much has to do with conditions that are local and with the procedures followed by the program provider that it's hard to issue definitive statements for particular countries."
He said that Bowdoin regularly reviews its list of programs and if a program does not meet the College's standards, "we are quite prepared to take it off the list, and have done so."
The Ithaca student, senior Lara Supan, told The Ithacan that the academic adviser in Jamaica "told us to figure out a lot of things on our own...that a lot of things were 'part of the experience,'" but that "led to physical violence and sexual assault."
Supan will file a join lawsuit with six other students who were on her program. Supan declined to comment, citing legal concerns.
Bowdoin senior Chris Knight, who attended the SIT program in Kingston, Jamaica, in the fall of 2005 said that there were no serious safety issues while he was there. He did note, however, that Kingston is arguably the most dangerous place in Jamaica.
"It's not as much safety as it is comfort," he said. "You can be in uncomfortable situations, but that's different from being unsafe."
Knight said that during the first weeks he was in Jamaica, the program did discuss safety issues and practices with students.
Hall said that Jamaica "is one of several countries where rather complex conditions relating to safety exist," and "any Bowdoin student going there would be aware of those conditions, but none has expressed unusual concerns about safety."
A need to be familiar with local safety issues is not particular to just Jamaica, Hall said.
"For any program overseas we would want to be sure that students understood the local conditions and what kind of activity on their part would be risky, and we would expect the program provider to cover this in their pre-departure materials and orientation," he said.