Trouble in Paradise
The crime behind MSU’s study abroad program
Rapes, assaults, druggings, threats, muggings, death — all of these incidents have happened to students on MSU study abroad.
MSU awarded the second-most credit hours for study abroad in the nation in 2010-11, according to the Institute of International Education. About 275 study abroad programs reach more than 60 countries in all seven continents. But before signing the form or stepping on the plane, there are some things that have happened during MSU’s study abroads students might want to keep in mind.
The State News received the incident summaries from the Office of Study Abroad’s programs from 2007-2012 through a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request.
Although requested, the FOIA did not include the countries of the incidents. A letter from MSU’s FOIA Office said the university was concerned they would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they released the country names because some students might be able to be identified.
Ben Chamberlain, international health and safety analyst in the Office of Study Abroad, said the office has a strong emphasis on pre-departure training for students, some of whom have never traveled before.
“The more we can bring those issues … up to the students, the less likely they are to happen,” Chamberlain said.
Incidents abroad range from an eye infection to death.
Chamberlain said the Office of Study Abroad documents roughly 100 incidents each year and about 55 are health-related.
In July 2009, a male student did not turn up for the program as expected and he was assumed to be OK, according to the FOIA documents. The following day, the student’s mother was notified that he had been found dead at a nearby campground and appeared to have drowned.
In February 2010, a student traveled for the weekend and was raped in a hotel bathroom. There was another rape in July 2010 when a student was drugged in a bar, taken to a hotel room while incoherent, robbed and raped.
Journalism junior Kevin Burrows went on a study abroad to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and stayed for five months. During his trip, about $1,000 worth of jewelry was stolen out of his room.
“(I) went away for the weekend and came back to my dorm room and found all of them missing,” Burrows said. “They found no forced entry into (my room).”
Burrows said he was told to report the incident to the local police, rather than MSU, and he was reimbursed half of the jewelry’s worth.
From 2007-2012, there were approximately 47 theft incidents reported to the Office of Study Abroad.
Education and Spanish junior Amanda Larson went on a study abroad to Spain last summer and had a few “crazy” encounters.
On a weekend trip to Morocco for El Dia de San Juan celebrations, some of Larson’s group members got robbed, and one student was beat to the point where he had to go to the hospital, she said.
Larson said they told the police and the leader of the university they were staying at about the incident. But Larson never reported it to MSU and documents obtained from the Office of Study Abroad do not mention the incident.
“They warned us about the Dia (de) San Juan because it’s a big day. They were warning us to be careful — and that happened,” Larson said. “They just had to tell us to be careful because they didn’t want us to get hurt, and I’m sure a part of it was because they didn’t want to get in trouble.”
What happens abroad, stays abroad?
As a university that participates in federal financial aid programs, MSU is required to report crimes under the Clery Act.
Incidents that occur within the four areas — public property, non-campus property, residence halls and on-campus — are required to be reported according to the Clery Act, said Joseph Storch, associate counsel in the Office of General Counsel for the State University of New York, who concentrates on Clery Act compliance.
According to the MSU 2012 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, a non-campus building or property on study abroad locations are places “the university rents or leases space for students.”
Any incident that happens outside of the four areas would not have to be reported under the Clery Act, Storch said, noting he is not affiliated with MSU or its crime reporting.
For example, when a student is involved in certain crimes committed in what is considered a “non-campus building or property” on a study abroad, that incident would need to be reported because of the Clery Act. But if the student was involved in an incident on a subway, road or sidewalk abroad, that incident would not require reporting, Storch said.
Although incidents — including some incidents abroad — are required to be reported under the Clery Act, on MSU’s Clery Act website, it does not list the countries of the incidents abroad.
“It seems to me that the basis of the Clery Act is to try to make the campus safer and try to make people aware of what happens on campus,” Storch said.
Associate Director of Student Life Rick Shafer said his office works with the Office of Study Abroad to make sure the students are aware of potential dangers before going abroad. Shafer said the offices work to determine whether a student is fit to attend a study abroad based on past disciplinary records.
For example, a student with a history of marijuana use who is going to a country where the laws are severe for getting caught with marijuana would be encouraged to talk with an MSU representative about the risks and consequences of any repeated decisions, Shafer said.
Chamberlain said there is a 24-hour emergency line that is answered by a cadet and transferred to the appropriate people to handle the situation. The students are given information through in-person and online sessions about how to stay safe abroad, he said.
If a student commits a serious crime on study abroad, Shafer said his office is sent the case to properly discipline the student.
“They reserve the serious cases to be sent to us, (and) most of them are health and safety,” Shafer said. “The well-being of students represent the university very well.”
Shafer said the consequences range from a warning to a permanent dismissal of the student from the university, but this is done on extremely rare cases.
“Most students know they made a mistake and are willing to make amends,” Shafer said.