The ongoing protests in Egypt have led to the State University of New York pulling its students who were studying at the American University of Cairo, Think has learned.
Stony Brook University was not among the campuses with students in Egypt, said William Arens, the Dean of International Academic Programs, but other students from the SUNY system were just beginning their spring semesters when the demonstrations began.
According to Lori Thompson, the associate director for international partnerships at SUNY’s Office of International Programs, seven or eight students were participating in programs in Egypt at the time tensions began to mount in the region.
Five of those students were in Cairo through a program run by SUNY Cortland in upstate New York. SUNY’s study abroad programs are run by individual universities in the system, but are open to any of the system’s 460,000-plus students to enroll.
Two students from Geneseo, two from the University of Buffalo and one from New Paltz participated in Cortland’s program, according to Jennifer Wilson, the director of Public Relations at Cortland.
“They’re all safe, in a safe state,” said Wilson. “Two opted to stay in Frankfurt, and three are in Istanbul, Turkey.”
All five students witnessed at least some of the protests. Four of the five students were in Cairo as late as yesterday, and the fifth left Egypt on Tuesday according to Wilson.
Wes Kennison, a faculty fellow for international programs at Geneseo, said that the SUNY students were among the last Americans to evacuate the country.
The American University in Cairo is situated away from most of the city’s hotspots for demonstrations, said Kennison. The safest option for the 300 students studying at the American University in Cairo was to keep them in the dormitories. The army was called in to protect them.
Communications with their students was difficult. Cell phone and Internet service in the country was shut down for days, and according to Kennison there was a single landline into the dormitories.
“What complicated the whole system was the state department warning to evacuate was a recommended evacuation, not a mandatory one,” he said.
Cortland too was strongly urging it’s students to leave the country, but it wasn’t until Monday that Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum officially pulled the plug on the program.
“SUNY Cortland discontinued the program and sent a letter to students and their parents,” said Wilson. “We didn’t want to give them a reason to stay.”
“The decision that [Cortland] made was in consultation with us and their collaborating campuses. It was kind of a tough decision but one we concurred on,” said Kennison.
“Some of the students were like ‘sure, I’ll leave,’ but some of them wanted to stay,” he said. “On the one hand, if I were there I would want to be out marching on the streets, too. A great moment in history is a very powerful draw.”
But as the protests continued and took a more violent turn, the safety of students ultimately took on a renewed sense of urgency.
“There were a couple of specific things we were concerned about,” said Kennison. “The first was when the food started to run out because of the shut down of the economy.”
Besides that, officials from Cortland feared that demonstrators upset with President Mubarak would redirect their frustrations towards foreigners if Mubarak left office.
“We went from strongly urging the students to leave, to Cortland essentially making them,” said Kennison.
As for the students themselves, refunds are being offered, as well as an extension to enroll in the Spring semester should they choose to return to New York. They are also free to find alternative study abroad programs in other locations.