The UCape Town program was canceled by the office of Study Abroad in the last days of October after months on end of student protests and violence in South Africa. The nationwide response erupted when there was a call to raise tuition by 8 percent, an amount that would significantly impact already-marginalized families.
The student protests escalated, and the country is now in a storm of firebombs, arrests and rubber bullets. Devika Milner, director of the Study Abroad office, said it was too big of a risk to send University of Miami students to the University of Cape Town, where the program is held, given the current climate.
“The safety and security of our students is paramount,” Milner said.
UM decided to cancel the spring 2017 semester of the program mainly because of the safety concerns, Milner said, but also because the University of Cape Town had not decided if it would continue classes in the spring and would not decide until Jan. 15.
The academic calendar of the University of Cape Town is completely different from that of UM, so students would be “academically stranded” if classes were canceled; it would be too late for the 10 students who were enrolled in the program to return to the Coral Gables campus.
“It was a heartbreaking decision,” Milner said.
Tatsumi Yanaba, a senior who switched to the Melbourne, Australia program after the UCape Town cancellation, said he was really seeking a cultural immersion of any kind, so he wasn’t too upset by the change.
“I want a global perspective,” he said. “I want to understand what it means to be a human on this planet.”
Mariah Robinson is far from her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, studying in France on a UM exchange program. Robinson, a junior majoring in international studies, was planning to be in South Africa in the spring because of her interest in sustainable development.
“I was hoping to intern with an NGO in that field, especially in Cape Town because it’s such an interesting city in terms of development work,” she said in a message. “So obviously I was really disappointed when the program was canceled. But I was able to switch to Sydney right away so that helped.”
The Study Abroad office was able to work with partner universities all over the world and offer spots on other programs to all 10 students whose Cape Town plans were canceled, Milner said, and most opted to go to Australia for the semester.
The UCape Town program, led by geography professor Richard Grant, was launched in spring 2013. This was the first time the Study Abroad office has canceled a program because of safety concerns although, Milner noted, there have been threats while students are abroad, such as during the Paris terror attacks last year.
“UCape Town is a phenomenal program,” Milner said. “I hope it doesn’t get students down about studying abroad.”
For more information about Study Abroad, visit miami.edu/studyabroad.