Study abroad safely

In a Sept. 30 editorial, “Prioritizing student safety abroad,” the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board called for the state Legislature to “require colleges to ensure the safety of their study abroad programs.”

As the University of Minnesota’s international health, safety, and compliance director, I couldn’t agree more that safety should be a priority in study abroad.

But can we ensure that students will be safe abroad? No. Neither can we promise they will be safe here at home on the University campus. But the University community should be proud of our safety and security record and our role as a leader in study abroad nationally.

While the vast majority of students return from abroad with no health or safety incidents, the unfortunate reality is that no college or university can completely ensure the safety of students abroad. Just as on Minnesota campuses every day, some students abroad will become ill, get injured, become the victim of a crime, commit crimes themselves or, in the most tragic and rare cases, die.

The Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crime statistics, including those that happen abroad, reported only one incident abroad for the University in the last two years. It was a burglary of a University office when no one was present.

Despite the relatively low number of incidents, we at the University take these risks seriously. We hire and train talented staff who work to educate our students on a range of risks and techniques to avoid them, while ensuring that support systems are in place. We require that all students complete a mandatory health and safety orientation, carry international travel health and security insurance, and have an emergency communication plan.

At the University, we care deeply about the health and safety of our students and take our responsibility extremely seriously, but regrettably, there is no way to absolutely ensure the safety of our students. I look forward to an informed conversation with legislators, experts and others who are interested in this topic. Policy decisions warrant careful attention to the facts, realistic discussion of implications and thoughtful
consideration.