Improve Student Safety on Study Abroad

Improve Student Safety on Study Abroad

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Abigail Davis started this petition to U.S. House of Representatives and

As a student, I was shocked to learn that education abroad programs do not have to count and report student deaths and injuries. This information must be accessible to everyone impacted by education abroad, whether they are students, parents, educators, researchers, legislators, or friends. This is why I support passage of the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act and the American Students Abroad Act.

I support these bills because:

  • Students and parents deserve access to education abroad safety information. This is how they will make truly informed academic decisions.
  • While education abroad programs and supporting organizations claim that student safety is their top priority, none support transparent reporting of student deaths, injuries, illnesses, and crimes. Yet most support tripling student enrollment.
  • These bills are not about ending or discouraging student travel programs. Understanding our increasingly globalized world is key to a 21st century education.
  • Through an evidence-based understanding of risk, these bills will make education abroad stronger. Programs will be able to develop new strategies for supporting student safety, while students will have a better understanding of actual risks, which can inform their decision-making throughout.
  • Let’s give students the most complete information possible, so they can learn from the world and safely return.

Background:

The origins of the Safe Student Study Abroad Act began in 2012, with the preventable death of study abroad student Ravi Thackurdeen. In the aftermath of Ravi’s death, his mother, Ros, used the Internet to look for news of other students who had died or been injured during education abroad.

Gradually, Ros filled binders with names, faces, and stories. She networked with bereaved mom, Elizabeth Brenner, whose son, Thomas Plotkin, died a preventable study abroad death in 2011. 

Ros and Elizabeth were astonished to learn of the lack of data-driven travel safety information available to students. This poverty of science existed even as higher education and the federal government issued repeated calls for study abroad enrollment growth. This inconsistency felt perplexing to the two.

In 2015, Ros and Elizabeth formed Protect Students Abroad (PSA) to advocate for industry-wide safety data transparency. Higher education and their membership organizations repeatedly acted to block PSA’s efforts with a short list of claims, such as: (1) Study abroad is “safer than education on campus” and “there’s no data to indicate that education abroad is inherently dangerous”; (2) Study abroad deaths are “isolated tragedies”; (3) Recording and reporting student safety events will be so “burdensome” as to “increase student costs”; (4) Recording and reporting student safety events will overwhelm government agencies who have “neither the capacity nor expertise to use the information in a meaningful way,” and; (5) Data collection will discourage students at a time when studying abroad has “never been more important.”

The irony of higher education’s arguments against transparency is that they are contradictory. On the one hand, the numbers of safety incidents are small. On the other hand, the impact of counting and reporting will be great. The arguments are illogical and suggest alternative explanations and underlying motives that are concerning. For example, it’s apparent that education abroad is strongly promoted on many campuses. It is an enrollment enhancer, a means to facilitate institutional reputation, and in all likelihood, it’s lucrative. Simultaneously, education abroad promoters claim that safety data is without relevance, and that in any event, individual death, while tragic, matters less when compared with the advantages offered to many.

If higher education prevails, the long-term implications for students suggest that every future death will be experienced as a tragic but one-off event, not part of a broader context from which we all can learn. The persistent absence of safety data will inevitably result in an absence of academic scholarship, and the pedagogy that informs education abroad will never join the evidence-based prevention-focused 21st century.

American students deserve better. For more information, visit Protect Students Abroad’s website at https://protectstudentsabroad.org/

 

Bill Information:

The Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act (H.R.2875, S.1572)

Congressmen Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Pete Olson (R-TX), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), with Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) have introduced to the 116th Congress the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act (H.R.2875, S.1572).

The Ravi Act amends Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require institutions of higher education to report safety incidents during education abroad, including deaths, accidents and illnesses resulting in hospitalization, sexual assaults, and crimes that generate a police report.

This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). Bill language has also been added to the AIM Higher Act, H.R.6543, which is the Democratic version of the Higher Education Act of 1965. It is anticipated that HEA reauthorization may move forward in the 116th Congress.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2875/text

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1572/text

The American Students Study Abroad Act (H.R.2876, S.1575)

Congressmen Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Pete Olson (R-TX), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), with Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Edward Markey (D-MA) have introduced to the 116th Congress the American Students Study Abroad Act (H.R.2876, S.1575).

The American Students Abroad Act amends the Public Health Service Act to require consular reports of U.S. citizen deaths abroad to be shared by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because DOS has U.S. citizen death records, and because the CDC has the capacity to analyze large quantities of data for patterns, the resulting information will be crucial to science-based fatality and injury prevention.

The American Students Abroad Act has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It has also been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2876

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1575

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