UT’s chapter of Global Medical Training, a national organization which gives firsthand medical experience to health care students, canceled its summer trip to Nicaragua on April 29 due to political unrest.
“As many of you may know, there has been significant political unrest in Nicaragua in the past week,” said UT’s GMT President Emma Villamaria in an email sent to over 600 UT members on Sunday. “Because of the current unrest in Nicaragua, the decision has been made by GMT Nationals, the University, and your organization leadership to cancel this summer’s upcoming Nicaragua trip.”
Although Villamaria, a biology junior, said the decision was influenced by GMT’s dialogue with the University, UT’s Global Risk and Safety unit of the International Office said the University was not officially part of the decision to cancel the trip.
“(UT’s) GMT, as far as I understand, made the decision on their own,” said Fiona Mazurenko, marketing manager for the International Office. “They informed us that they weren’t going to be going.”
The International Office has a Global Risk and Safety unit to monitor world conditions for travelers representing the University, Mazurenko said. The unit also leads UT’s International Oversight Committee, a group that assesses levels of risk in countries or regions with significant health or safety concerns.
The committee rated Nicaragua a category two, the second-highest risk category, on their Restricted Regions list on April 23 in response to a U.S. Department of State travel advisory on political unrest. UT students can still go to the country through the school, but at “high risk.”
“These policies to restrictive regions are not supposed to be obstacles to students traveling, they’re more like oversight,” Mazurenko said. “We’ve had some requests to go to Nicaragua that have been approved by the (committee).”
After Nicaragua became a category two, biochemistry senior Amanda Gonzalez said GMT found out they had to refile paperwork to get the trip reapproved by the committee. But officers did not end up filing the paperwork, because after watching the news, they felt the trip was no longer viable, Gonzalez said.
Refiling would require GMT to get a signature of approval for the trip from Student Activities and the Dean of Natural Sciences. Villamaria said she had a conversation with the Dean’s Office and they told her the Dean would not sign the paperwork unless the trip was 100 percent safe.
Gonzalez, who was the trip’s coordinator, said students who were supposed to go on the trip will be given three options. Volunteers can either join another group traveling to the Dominican Republic, be guaranteed a spot on a trip next year or be refunded a fee they paid to GMT Nationals to go on the trip. Airline fees are not guaranteed to be refunded, Gonzalez said.
Villamaria said the decision to not go was a joint one made from conversations with the Dean’s Office and overall danger in Nicaragua.
“No one told us, explicitly, ‘You cannot go,’” Gonzalez said. “(The staff members of the Dean’s office were) telling us it’s probably not going to get approved. If they feel so strongly about it that they’re telling us, ‘It’s highly likely that it won’t get approved,’ then that’s already a clear indication that we shouldn’t be going.”