Student safety a concern
Measures taken to ensure the well being of students as they head overseas
Every year, Liberty University commits to outreach efforts all over the globe, but with the ongoing Ebola outbreak, some question the safety of students traveling abroad.
Between 600 and 800 Liberty students participate in study abroad programs every year that are both semester long and short-term tours. There are also Global teams that typically range from 10-12 participants.
During the 2014-2015 academic year, Liberty will be sending out 22 different Global Teams during Christmas, spring and summer breaks. Of those teams, six will be traveling to African countries, including the West African countries of Ghana and Togo.
The serious nature of the Ebola disease does warrant caution, but that is nothing new for Robert Wells, Liberty University’s Director of Risk Management. Working with the Center for Student Travel, Wells monitors and implements safety protocol for all students traveling with the university.
“Whoever we’re working with, whether it’s missions or a third-party tour group, we do a vendor review, and we have standards that are set and safety measures that need to be met,” Wells said. “The university is in constant communication with the vendors.”
The vendors the university partners with are thoroughly evaluated and reputable, Wells said, and many are recurring partners of Liberty University. No students will be sent to the affected West African countries for study abroad programs. According to Wells, it would not even be a possibility due to insurance restrictions.
Also heading warnings from the State Department and CDC is John, whose last name has been withheld for safety reasons. As director of Global Teams in the Center for Global Engagement, John stays in contact with the hosts in various countries and Liberty’s partner organizations to ensure safety.
“We’re in communication specifically with two of the major organizations who have been in the countries where Ebola has broken out and are helping to fight the outbreak,” John said. “We get firsthand communication with them on the general Ebola situation.”
Measures of precaution are taken to present students with the best, safest travel situations. A standard insurance program will go into effect in the spring of 2015 for every study abroad participant, ensuring that health safety standards are the same for each student. Students must be enrolled in a university registry that keeps track of all trips, participants and medical details.
“We’re in constant contact with the State Department, and if the State Department lists a country as unsafe, then we won’t travel there,” Wells said. “We monitor the state department and the CDC listings, and if we have a trip that’s planned to an area that may have any type of health risk, we would cancel that trip.”
Liberty has cancelled previous trips in order to ensure student safety. One Global Team that was originally intended to travel to Benin, Africa in December 2014 had their trip redirected to the Philippines in March 2015 due to various concerns including disease in the area.
John recalled a former trip to Mexico City that was postponed due to the Swine Flu epidemic.
“We collaborate with our partnering programs and work with them closely so we know what’s going on in their area of the world,” Wells said. “We take seriously the concerns, and we will cancel trips when we need to.”
John reiterated Liberty’s care and concern for all student travelers as a top priority of an institution so invested in cross-cultural work.
“The well-being of our students is something that’s very important to us,” John said. “We do stay on top of not only health concerns like the Ebola virus, but other risks as well and seek to monitor those … in order to make the most informed assessments and decisions about reasonable risk.
Carter is a sports reporter.