For the first time in its history, Ithaca College’s Office of International Programs has suspended one of its affiliated study abroad programs.
The college’s affiliation with the School for International Training (SIT) was temporarily discontinued March 15 for “safety and security reasons,” said Tanya Saunders, assistant provost and dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies.
“This decision [wasn’t] made on a whim, but in response to a serious situation,” she said. “It cannot be overlooked.”
SIT, a worldwide higher education institution aiming to effectively prepare students as intercultural leaders and citizens, offers field-based study programs at the undergraduate and graduate level in 52 countries around the world.
According to Saunders, around nine students planned to apply to SIT programs for the Fall 2007 semester, but only two had been accepted before the suspension.
Of the four affiliated programs offered to students studying abroad, SIT offers the broadest diversity of non-European destinations, Saunders said. The Office of International Studies recently added programs in Latin America, a popular SIT destination, but Saunders said SIT offered the only Africa study location affiliated with the college.
Saunders said students can still travel abroad to any location through accredited undergraduate programs, either affiliated with or independent of the college. In nonaffiliated programs, however, grades cannot be counted toward grade point average; institutional aid and scholarships cannot be applied toward tuition; and students must take a leave of absence.
The college’s decision came as senior Lara Supan, who studied through a SIT program in Kingston, Jamaica, last semester, plans to file a lawsuit against SIT for maltreatment by its academic advisers, who Supan said minimized the significance of serious safety threats and belittled her requests to leave the program early.
“[The academic adviser] told us to figure out a lot of things on our own … that a lot of things were ‘part of the experience,’” Supan said. “[But] that led to physical violence and sexual assault. And where do you draw the line?”
The lawsuit, to be filed jointly by six of the students from Supan’s trip, asks for a settlement that includes payment for the program’s tuition and counseling fees generated after the trip. Supan said SIT called the college to notify it of a problem last semester, but only told study abroad directors “to expect parent phone calls.”
When asked if the college suspended relations with SIT because of the threatened lawsuit, Saunders declined to comment.
One of the students who applies to the program for next year, sophomore Erika Spaet, learned of the suspension on the SIT Web site as she was finalizing her application to study in Morocco. Since the college will review each country on a case-by-case basis, Spaet said, there is no definite timeline for if and when her program will be re-approved.
After a year taking classes within the college’s growing Arabic program, Spaet looked forward to using the Durban program for language immersion.
“I thought that it was hypocritical to offer this language and [have] this growing program and not offer any study abroad program that aligned itself with that,” she said.
Though it is the first time the college has temporarily cut ties with a study abroad program, Saunders said it is not the first time the office has raised questions. This specific case is different, she said, because it was brought to her in the middle of a semester.
“Presumably if it had occurred over the summer, it would’ve provided more time for SIT to respond to our questions,” Saunders said.
Senior Kaitlin Hasseler, who studied through SIT in South Africa and who also studied at the college’s London Center, said SIT offers experientially based, hands-on study programs, which are a rarity among programs managed by the college, like Australia and London.
“You’re living with families, you’re actually going around to the places you’re learning about and you’re getting a very first-hand look at the country,” she said.
Hasseler said losing affiliation with SIT would make it harder for students to take a nontraditional approach to studying abroad.
“We’re quick to pull out of these nontraditional areas, [but] we have safety and security issues in all study abroad programs,” she said.