University Learning Abroad Center officials said they followed their sexual harassment policy when a student studying in Tanzania complained about sexual assaults earlier this semester.
University student Rachel Jamison says otherwise.
The repeated rape attempts and assaults against Jamison raise concerns about the legal implications of study abroad programs. Questions of liability remain, since there is little precedence for this type of case, according to a study abroad expert.
The Learning Abroad Center released a statement late last week.
“The LAC received no student or program reports of incidents in the Tanzania program at any time during the fall semester,” according to the statement.
“The LAC, in accordance with its policy, responds promptly to complaints by trying to connect with the complaining student to learn the student’s view of what happened, by investigating allegations and by taking appropriate action.”
Jamison disagrees and said publicly that the LAC violated the University’s sexual harassment policy. She said she contacted the Center about the sexual harassment she experienced in Tanzania.
Jamison, a fifth-year student, received a full scholarship from the International Reciprocal Student Exchange Program to attend the University of Dar es Salaam.
Jamison initially contacted the LAC regarding sexual harassment on Jan. 30, six months after the harassment began, and received what she said was an “inadequate” response Feb. 1. She didn’t hear back from the LAC directly until Feb. 15, although she did work with other University offices during that time. Jamison said her worst assault occurred on Feb. 14.
“I think their response sounded a little tepid,” said Robert Aalberts, a professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who researches the legal implications of studying abroad.
“At least they have a moral duty,” Aalberts said. “If they don’t have a moral duty, they might have a legal duty as well.”
LAC officials said they can’t comment on Jamison’s situation.
“Unfortunately, because of student privacy laws, the (LAC) cannot discuss a particular student without the student’s consent,” LAC officials said in the statement. “The (LAC) therefore cannot describe specifically the responses it has made to this student’s complaint.”
Jamison said she won’t allow the LAC to comment on her situation for fear of retribution toward those who assisted her. If the LAC contacts the University of Dar es Salaam, their safety could be harmed, she said.
“Right now I’m not working with the Learning Abroad Center because I don’t think they took the situation seriously enough,” Jamison said.
The LAC also noted in the statement that the staff maintains an active stance on sexual harassment and recently went through training. “The LAC also provides education for students traveling abroad, including cultural information specifically about travel in Tanzania,” according to the statement.
Jamison disagreed and said, “I was never made aware of that policy, and no one I’ve ever met that’s studied abroad has either.”
Jamison’s situation could have broader implications for students sexually harassed and assaulted while studying abroad, Aalberts said.
“There’s a real scarcity of legal guidance,” he said. “Because these cases are really unusual Ö that’s one of the real problems.”
As the University continues to encourage all students to study abroad and expand opportunities for students to do so, safety and cost concerns remain.
“If you start imposing really, really difficult expensive duties upon universities, they’re just going to give up on the program,” Aalberts said. “It will no longer be economically feasible to do them.”
Jamison said she doesn’t want to see the program closed, but would like to see more steps taken for student safety.
The University’s contact in Tanzania is the same contact for roughly 130 international students, she said.
Eric Howard, a University alumnus who received the same scholarship as Jamison, said when he was at the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Minnesota’s contact was responsible for 60 to 70 other international students.
Howard, who had a positive experience during his year in Tanzania, sympathizes with Jamison and said that the University’s contact “could not give you the personal attention.”
Other American universities in Tanzania hire their own contacts to ensure the safety of their students. Although Howard said some of those individuals were corrupt, it did ensure greater security for those students.
Jamison said it can take up to two years for grades to return from Tanzania.
Howard, who returned from Tanzania in May 2006, is still waiting for his transcript to arrive from the University of Dar es Salaam. He plans to start a job with Boeing Co. in Seattle this month, but can’t start until those grades are documented on his transcript and the University issues his diploma.
To read the first story in this series, go here.
The Department of History and the College of Liberal Arts Honors Office told Jamison that she will likely graduate in May, despite not registering for classes in Tanzania.
Jamison said she won’t return to Tanzania for safety reasons, but said she “definitely” learned something being there.
“As of this point,” Jamison said, “I don’t think it’s a safe place for me to go back, not to Tanzania.”