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Students, administrators turn wary eyes to Syria

Students, administrators turn wary eyes to Syria

By Sam Colt

Rarely does the possibility of armed conflict weigh into study-abroad decisions.

But last week, President Barack Obama suggested the U.S. punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, a decision that could directly affect Kenyon students with aspirations to study in the Middle East. While Obama waits on congressional approval for a limited military engagement, the College is monitoring the situation in case violence spills over into one of Syria’s neighbors.

In a conference call on Labor Day reported by The New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern to House Democrats about the threat Syria posed to Israel, Jordan and Turkey, all countries that the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) has approved for off-campus study.

“When any international incident happens, we trust our providers,” CGE Director Marne Ausec said.

The CGE says its approach to crisis management reflects the vetting each program undergoes before receiving College approval. “There is no way we can know the exact details of what’s going on in every country at any time,” Ausec said. “The folks who are on the ground, they know better than we do what’s going on. So we trust them.”

Three Kenyon students are studying near Syria this semester: two in Jordan and one in Turkey. The same number of students will be in those countries this spring.

Molly Halberstadt ’15, who plans to study in Jordan next semester, is guardedly optimistic about studying there. “I’m nervous because I’m a young Jewish woman in an [Islamic] area, and because of the turbulence of the region and the Syrian refugee spill into Jordan that could bring Jordan into the conflict,” she said.

If violence in Syria spilled over, the CGE might employ a strategy called shelter-in-place, which holds that staying pt during crises can sometimes be safer for students than an expedient evacuation from their host country.

“In Paris, when there are student protests and people are throwing tear gas ラ that’s a limited version of shelter-in-place. You tell students: don’t go here, don’t go there. You don’t immediately send them home,” Ausec said.

Students on campus and abroad have also been following the news coming out of Syria. Halberstadt supports a limited engagement. “I think it’s more dangerous to do nothing than to do something,” Halberstadt said. “I wouldn’t support an all-out invasion, because no one wants another Iraq, but I think that inaction will show that we condone the blatant human rights violations and will encourage Assad to continue gassing citizens.”

Some students have developed nuanced opinions since Syria’s civil war began two years ago. “There are sound arguments for the proposed air strikes and there are sound arguments against further escalation,” said Jon Green ’14, an editor-in-chief of The Kenyon Observer. “There are even sound arguments that we should have put boots on the ground 18 months ago.”

Regardless of what the Obama administration and Congress decide, Ausec says the CGE will need to monitor the political climate in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. “Things change on a daily basis,” Ausec said. “So the plan you had yesterday might not be the plan you have today based on new information.”

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