Harvard urged students studying abroad in the Middle East and Northern Africa to take safety precautions in response to last week’s unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“Mob violence is the immediate concern,” read the email, sent by Harvard’s Global Support Services office. “But personnel also should be aware that singleton Islamic fanatics are more likely to lash out at individual Westerners at times like the present, and that any Westerner could be a target.”
The email was forwarded by the Office of Career Services to students studying abroad who “may face incidental and–conceivably–direct risks in the event of clashes between protesters and security personnel.”
The email was intended as a general warning and not in response to a specific threat to any Harvard affiliate, according to Harvard Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin.
Joseph Levy ’97, director of GSS, wrote in an email to The Crimson that “few Harvard students” are currently abroad and declined to comment on the number currently in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Levy declined a request for a phone interview.
In the email sent by GSS, the office told students to, among other things, “maintain a low profile, avoid sensitive topics of discussion, and avoid overt displays of nationality.”
OCS also advised that students update their information on the Harvard Travel Registry, which allows the University to keep track of students who may encounter danger while abroad.
Last week’s uprisings, which resulted in the death of the American ambassador to Libya along with other westerners, came in reaction to a film trailer insulting the prophet Mohammed. The video was produced in the United States and shared online.
Inanna L. Carter ’14, who is currently studying abroad in Kimana, Kenya, and described her location as “quite far from Northern Africa,” wrote in an email that she would not have known about any “unrest” if it had not had been for GSS’s message. Carter was traveling and could not be reached by phone.
According to Levy, GSS advises students to research the risks of their destinations prior to their departures. The office requires undergraduates to attend pre-departure orientations that go over safety suggestions for such things as medical care and traffic accidents.
Levy noted that students abroad should take precautions regardless of where they are traveling.
“Many of the precautions that are most important in North Africa right now are also important no matter where you go,” he wrote. “And we always caution students to avoid even seemingly peaceful protests, because they can turn violent without warning.”
—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com.