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The Center for Global Education promotes international education to foster cross-cultural awareness, cooperation and understanding. Living and working effectively in a global society requires learning with an international perspective.

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SAFETI Clearinghouse
Special Issue: Travel Warning for Mexico

Special Issue: U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico

Balancing Safety Concerns and Academic Engagement in Mexico (Updated October 2011)
a Joint Statement from:

Francisco Marmolejo, Executive Director
Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration (CONAHEC)


Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director, SAFETI Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Concerns about the continuing violence at the U.S. – Mexico Border are real. The U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico, (issued September 2010 and updated on April 22, 2011) highlights these security concerns, specifying cities/regions within Mexico where there are more acute safety concerns. Our interpretation is that the Travel Warning does not suggest that U.S. citizens should avoid travel to all parts of Mexico altogether. Following are some portions of the Travel Warning which highlight selected areas of Mexico where there is particular concern, confirms that many U.S. citizens have safe visits to Mexico, and reflects on individual responsibility to better understand safety risks in Mexico:

“The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico about the security situation in Mexico...

...Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere. While most victims of violence are Mexican citizens associated with criminal activity, the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well...

...It is imperative that you understand the risks involved in travel to Mexico and how best to avoid dangerous situations. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where criminal activity might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable...

...Due to ongoing violence and persistent security concerns, you are urged to defer non-essential travel to the states of Tamaulipas and Michoacán, and to parts of the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Jalisco (U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico).”

The U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico raises a number of programmatic issues, challenges, and opportunities, for institutions and their students, faculty, and staff, as follows: If an institution has a policy for "no programs in a country with a Travel Warning”, it should consider whether the policy should be revised to allow for a deeper analysis of the Travel Warning balanced with the location of its programs, especially if the Travel Warning is openly limiting the no-travel recommendation to a specific region, not the entire country. The detailed analysis should include an assessment of possible risks in relation to the distance from the specific Travel Warning regions. If an institution is not open to a deeper assessment of the Travel Warning, this kind of restrictive policy, even though easy to implement, would suggest that an institution would need to suspend its programs and withdraw all faculty, staff, and students from Mexico. Depending on the risk tolerance of the institution, the question then becomes whether this would be the right response. The concern we would like to express is if U.S. colleges and universities withdraw/suspend activities from all areas of Mexico, then, in essence, institutions may be creating an “academic wall” between the two countries.

Our position is that the Travel Warning for Mexico should be used as an opportunity for U.S. colleges and universities to scrutinize the Warning, consult with Consular Affairs and the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), U.S. Department of State, as well as other experts and international partners, and review the types of programming and the areas where they have student, faculty, and staff mobility activities. If the institution has a number of students on Federal scholarships (e.g., Gilman) or international grant projects, the institution should also consult with the granting agency to see whether eligibility criteria would limit funding for students or institutions when a Travel Warning is issued. After such a review, institutions would be in a better position to make an informed decision to limit programs in areas where risks cannot be managed while at the same time supporting the continuation of their engagement in areas that are quite a distance away from the high-risk regions identified in the Travel Warning. For programs located in areas where current safety conditions strongly suggest a temporary suspension of mobility programs, along with finding other locations in Mexico as a temporary alternative, we suggest working with partners to identify creative solutions to continue with the international collaboration. For example, the use of technology could help students successfully accomplish their intended goals, and sustain collaborative activities, while at the same time limiting possible financial and academic impacts. Creative solutions can help sustain existing relationships with international partners.

Institutions should take time to identify the parts of Mexico, including some of the border areas mentioned in the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, where the safety and security of students/faculty/staff is of heightened concern. Clear guidance should be provided as to where study abroad, research, and other activities can continue to safely take place and specific warnings should be provided regarding areas of the country and situations to avoid during program related activities and independent travel. Analysis by Inés DeRomaña of the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) provides insights into a review of the updated Travel Warning and its impact on UCEAP programming:

“October 10, 2011

The University of California has been sending students to study in Mexico for over 20 years and is currently based in Mexico City. Even though there have been some incidents of drug violence in Mexico City, the risk of drug violence is minimal compared to the northern border cities. Drug-related violence is not a significant risk to University of California students, faculty, and staff in Mexico City and other areas, south and east of Mexico City, that are located quite a distance from the focus of violence.

UCEAP has issued a UCEAP travel warning restricting student travel (during the program and during their program breaks) to very circumscribed areas near the students’ current locations. UCEAP will dismiss any participant who does not abide by the policy. Due to the unpredictable nature of the situation in Mexico, students are required to check this warning often as it can change.”

Ines DeRomana, Principal Analyst
Health, Security, and Emergency Response
University of California System
Education Abroad Program

Developing an appropriate response at an institution may require better resources for the education abroad staff, better analysis of the health and safety challenges abroad, and enhanced collaboration to include input from legal counsel, risk management, student affairs, others across campus, external experts, as well as international partners. All international programs should be reviewed so that policies supporting education abroad are also considered for service learning, athletics, campus ministry, research, special projects, and other programs that send students, faculty, or staff abroad.

Institutions should also consider the guidance they are providing to students who connect through an on-campus or other travel office to group or independent spring break opportunities in Mexico or any other country. The units on campus with international programs should be working with the campus Public Relations office to develop a statement on how the institution is responding to Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts to provide a consistent message to faculty, staff, students, and parents.

It is important to incorporate the perspective of risk management in the discussion to confirm that the health, emergency assistance, and liability insurance will properly cover faculty, staff, students, and institutions in countries for which Travel Alerts and Warnings have been issued. We also recommend that you check with emergency assistance providers to see what the terms of their coverage are for students, faculty, and staff who return to the U.S. from a country or region that an institution deems "unsafe", but is not mentioned in a Travel Warning or Travel Alert.

This is another good time to bring an institutional campus crisis management team together to review institutional policies and procedures and make sure that there are plans in place for a coordinated effort among the various units involved in the planning and implementation of programs abroad.

With the importance of the strong connection between Mexico and the U.S. for many members of the faculty, staff, and students of most college and university campuses, we believe that a campus-wide response should include engagement in meaningful interdisciplinary discussions with faculty, staff, and students who may have strong ties to issues related to Mexico or to institutions in Mexico. Enhancing the dialogue about the impact of education abroad or other international faculty, staff, and student collaboration with Mexico for teaching, research, and community service can support the development of an appropriate and measured response and provide for a meaningful and positive dialogue about these issues across campus. With proper support, this can become an opportunity for international learning and understanding on campus.

Again, we believe that it is critical to remain engaged in fostering more opportunities for collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico. At the same time, it is important for all institutions to follow due diligence protocols that support a comprehensive analysis of the program locations, participant demographics, program focus and health and safety concerns, as well as issues of where faculty, staff, and students travel during their independent time while abroad. Providing clear information and resources for faculty, staff, students, and parents is necessary to support educated decisions about participation in and the continued implementation of programs with components which take place abroad. Appropriate and measured analysis of and response to U.S. Department of State Travel Alerts and Warnings are necessary to support the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff participating in international programs, while maintaining appropriate levels of international engagement and providing these irreplaceable learning opportunities.

We also believe that whether U.S. students, faculty or staff are going to Mexico or Mexican students, faculty, or staff are going to the U.S., there will be health and safety challenges. Managing these challenges and providing support to students, faculty, and staff is of utmost importance. However, for the betterment of North America in the 21st Century, it is critical that the higher education community is focused on issues that affect the U.S. and Mexico. The SAFETI Clearinghouse resources and guidance provided by CONAHEC, along with other available resources, can contribute to the work of institutions while they enhance their planning and response efforts and support international learning through the movement of students, faculty, and staff between the U.S. and Mexico. The higher education communities in Mexico and the U.S. were able to work through health issues in the past following H1N1 concerns and maintain collaboration. We believe that we can do the same in responding to these safety concerns.


Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Center for Global Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
8907 Math Sciences Building,
Box 951521
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521
Rhodes email

Francisco Marmolejo
Executive Director
Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration (CONAHEC)
Marmolejo email