Administration suspends unaccompanied international travel


Hadley Jolley

A new Whitman College policy suspending unaccompanied international travel has sophomore Maggie Appleton, co-president of Whitman Direct Action (WDA), worried about the future of the group. This policy suspends Whitman funding of unaccompanied international travel by students, which means that WDA will not receive financial assistance from the school to go abroad and volunteer.

Last year, WDA traveled to Guatemala on a service trip to encourage sustainable agriculture. Members have previously participated in clean water projects in Mexico and India, a biodiesel project in Central America as well as other international service trips.

“The new rule change undermines the club entirely,” said Appleton. “We’re not quite sure how we’re going to function this year under these rules, because our whole premise is that students independently plan their own trips and are able to travel, and under these rules, we’d need a professor to accompany us. So first we’d need to get a professor to agree to give up the research they were going to do that summer.”

Last year marked the first attempt of Whitman College to routinely fund international programs. Since then, the administration has discovered that they do not have the resources to properly ensure the safety of the students going abroad. Prior to last year, ASWC funded WDA’s projects.

“We had a lot more interest than anticipated, and it became pretty quickly apparent that in order to properly look at the various trips that students wanted to engage in we had to do a lot of research to screen them and make sure they were safe,” said Susan Brick, director of off-campus studies.

A total of 13 groups applied for funding last year, with all but two being funded, according to Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland. Besides Whitman Direct Action, other applicants included the International Students and Friends Club and individual students who wanted funding for international internships or research.

“The two that didn’t get funded were the ones at the very end, because by this point we’re going, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s just so many things we don’t know, and retroactively we were concerned with some of the ones we had funded,” said Cleveland.

According to Cleveland, Whitman College is selecting a committee to look for a way to reinstate the program. It has not started yet; Cleveland said that it will likely include Treasurer Peter Harvey, Brick, Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn and representatives from ASWC.   While he believes it is necessary to hire another staff member for safety purposes, Cleveland believes the college may be able to identify lower-risk trips.

“Another issue is to identify the kinds of trips that maybe we should be less concerned about. So for example, maybe an internship, where a student is traveling internationally but going to an organization of some sort. Maybe conference trips,” said Cleveland.

Hiring a staff member, however, would be costly.

“You can’t hire an entry level person to do a risk management job,” said Brick.

Hiring another staff member will also delay the reinstatement of funding. Both Cleveland and senior John Loranger, ASWC vice president and student affairs chair, who is also involved in WDA, agree that the suspension will persist for the year.

“One of the reasons it’s really imperative we get this fixed is that the college maintains that more and more learning is taking place outside of the classroom, and that it is an increasingly important area that needs to be given precedence” said Loranger.