Following the sexual assault of a University of California student, the system-wide Education Abroad Program has cancelled its trips to South Africa until further notice.
A female EAP student studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, was sexually assaulted in the bathroom of her university-owned residence hall in the early morning of Nov. 13. Students in the same program had previously complained to both EAP and UKZN officials about lax security in the residence halls, including broken entry gates, flimsy locks and broken windows, which were not fixed when reported. Students enrolled at the UKZN Durban campus in the spring will now head toward Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, while EAP officials and officials at the Durban campus work to address issues of safety on campus and in the residence halls.
Bruce Hanna, director of strategic marketing and communications for the university-wide EAP office, said the program has done its best to respond to concerns by placing students in contact with an EAP liaison and making alternate housing arrangements for students who felt unsafe living in the dorms.
“EAP staff in California were aware of the attack within hours, […] and offered to provide all assistance possible to the victim and all EAP students there via liaison staff onsite,” Hanna said. “Housing for several students was altered following continued concerns about the safety of the residence halls.”
According to Christine Kim, a UC Berkeley graduate who attended the program last spring, previous student concerns about safety in the residence halls were allegedly ignored by EAP.
“The problem is that there are ongoing incidents,” Kim said. “The advisor had been there last term also, and we provided the same concerns. I don’t see how that makes anything better.”
According to Hanna, the EAP staff has continually assessed the safety of participants on all programs and has cancelled several programs in the past due to political unrest or health concerns.
“We make a judgment call regarding the risk and at times suspend a program,” Hanna said. “[But] we cannot guarantee safety or security just as the UC cannot at our California campuses.”
Kim said students were made aware of the risks involved with studying in a developing country but felt EAP officials could put more pressure on UKZN officials to improve the living situation.
“They didn’t communicate correctly what the living situation would be,” Kim said. “They told us there are no bars on the windows, but my window was broken [when] I got there and no one fixed it. That’s inaction.”
Prior to the reported sexual assault, Kim and others had reported property thefts to UKZN officials and local police. Kim said local students are regularly the victims of alleged assaults, and she criticized EAP for only responding when the issue affected an American student.
“We want to shed light on this issue,” Kim said. “It happens all the time in South Africa.”
Ten UCSB students attended the program at the UKZN campus this fall, along with 15 students from other UC campuses. During the 2006-07 school year, the program offered education abroad opportunities at roughly 150 universities in 35 countries with about 4,000 UC students participating.