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Letter to the editor: Stanford’s suspension of Russia programs

I read with great dismay that Stanford is discontinuing its study abroad programs for undergraduates in Russia. Stanford is making a mistake, and its students will be worse off for it.

The university cites security concerns as listed by the U.S. State Department as the reason for suspending travel. It is admirable to follow a consistent set of guidelines in deciding where students can study abroad safely. I fully appreciate Stanford’s duty of care and responsibility to protect its students, some of whom may not be experienced travelers. But the State Department’s concerns for Russia are not dissimilar to alerts issued for many other countries that I assume Stanford students travel to regularly.

Has Stanford gone one step further and evaluated which of State’s Russia warnings are specifically relevant to traveling students? Has the university determined which risks could be mitigated by, say, pre-departure awareness training or other reasonable precautions?

And has Stanford considered that the only way to develop expertise in country studies – or nurture a true passion for a place – is to experience that place first-hand?

I am a graduate of two Russian-studies programs and now work for a risk consultancy. I know how enriching it is to travel – to Russia and beyond – and how straightforward it can be to travel safely. Stanford should reconsider its ban and allow its students to experience Russia in a way that learning from a distance will never match.

At a time when expertise in Russia should be highly prized, Stanford should be supplying the world with graduates who can at least use the phrase “When I studied in Russia…”

Charles Hecker

BA Penn ’85

MA Harvard ’87

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