New Fletcher trek policies to provide more opportunities for students

Katie Mulroy, Director of Student Affairs at the Fletcher School, poses for a portrait. Courtesy Anthony Schultz

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Office of Student Affairs has implemented new policies regarding the coordination of Fletcher treks, which are student-organized, school-subsidized educational and cultural tours of a country or region, according to Katie Mulroy, the director of student affairs at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Mulroy cited recent controversy surrounding a student-led trip to Israel, the sudden cancelation of a Fletcher trek to Pakistan and a general need for administrative and structural improvements as the reasons for these changes.

“Over the past year, the Fletcher community faced several difficult situations involving treks — including differing opinions regarding the Fletcher Israel Trek, and the Fletcher Pakistan Trek that received a ‘Not Approved’ decision from the Tufts International Travel Review Committee,” Mulroy told the Daily in an email. “At that point, Fletcher Student Affairs realized that we faced a choice. We could allow students to plan treks completely independently of Fletcher or we could institute an approval process and then support the students in their planning process.”

After consultation with the Fletcher student body and conducting benchmarking work with peer schools, the administration opted for the latter option, Mulroy explained. According to Mulroy, the Fletcher Office of Student Affairs worked closely with Tufts Global Operations, Fletcher’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations and students to establish a system to ensure that students could effectively plan treks that are educational and rewarding while complying with university policies on overseas travel.

“After generating a tentative Trek Policy and Application for Initial Trek Approval, I solicited feedback from the student body,” Mulroy said. “Many students commented on both the policy and application and had excellent and thoughtful suggestions that were then incorporated into the final documents.”

According to Mulroy, Fletcher previously did not have a comprehensive trek-planning process. Students were expected to abide by long-established university policies regarding international travel as well as a brief, one-page guide that Mulroy had created for students organizing treks. The guide included general instructions for notifying the appropriate offices of travel intentions, determining how to receive funding and registering with the Tufts Travel Registry, Mulroy said.

However, some students expressed concerns that these broad guidelines did not go far enough in ensuring an efficient trek-planning process. According to Mariya Ilyas, a second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) student at Fletcher who was involved in organizing the canceled Fletcher trek to Pakistan and advocating for a clearer travel review process, navigating the various offices necessary for receiving trek approval was an ambiguous undertaking.

“What ended up happening, unfortunately, with the Pakistan trek was that despite following all of the guidelines that were available to us, the process of obtaining a security approval from the International Travel Review Committee was ambiguous, unclear and certainly not streamlined,” Ilyas said. “Six weeks before [our departure] we received conditional approval from them, noting that we had met their guidelines aside from a couple of outstanding items, but then literally one week later we were denied.”

According to Claudia Jackson, the director of global operations at Tufts, the trip was canceled after provisional approval was granted by the International Travel Review Committee (ITRC) because later conversations with the U.S. Department of State showed that security concerns made the trek unfeasible.

Ilyas believes that increased procedural clarity, which the new trek policies address, could have prevented the sudden cancelation.

“For the Pakistan trek, it was bureaucratic technicalities, a breakdown in the system and the support that we felt we didn’t receive at a level we should have [that led to the trip’s cancelation],” Ilyas said. “From the [Israel trek] conversations and the Pakistan trek conversations on campus, the administration definitely felt that they needed to do something in terms of at least making the process clearer.”

Other students also expressed concerns about transparency during the trek-planning process in regard to a recent Fletcher trek to Israel. Mohamed Nabil Bennaidja, a first-year MALD student at Fletcher who wrote an op-ed in the Daily about a Fletcher trek to Israel’s potential to perpetuate an imbalanced political narrative, said that the original trek-planning policies lacked student and administrative accountability.

“Before the new policies, there was no transparency in the trek-planning process and a lack of communication between students and administration, especially regarding how the trips were being funded — if students obtained money from a source that potentially had a political agenda, administration wouldn’t know about it,” Bennaidja said. “However, the new policies bring accountability, transparency to the wide public and more scrutiny in the selection process of students.”

Fletcher treks are still completely student-organized and managed: The student organizers plan all logistical details and secure funding for the trips independently, according to Mulroy. However, Mulroy said she hopes that the new trek policies, which include a detailed application timeline, preliminary vetting questions to ensure a trek’s viability and specific organizational transparency requirements, will serve to address the recent controversies.

“First, we have established clear guidelines and a timeline regarding treks. Students now know the point by which they need to begin their trek planning process and by when they should be completing each task — including an application to the International Travel Review Committee, if necessary… We are trying to ensure more seamless communication between students and administrators across Tufts,” Mulroy said. “Third, our policies require trek organizers to be transparent about both funding sources and participant selection criteria when communicating with the student body.”

Mulroy also emphasized the continued independence of student-organized Fletcher treks from The Fletcher School as an institution.

“We have also made it clear in our policies and on our trek application that approval to plan a trek using school resources does not indicate that The Fletcher School endorses, approves of, or in any other way sanctions the political, economic, social, or other policies of the country to be visited or the trek’s funding sources,” Mulroy said.

According to Ilyas, the new policies are a positive force in fostering increased experiential opportunities for Fletcher students.

“I believe that the new guidelines are a step in the right direction in the trek application process and in allowing students more opportunities to initiate international trips for experiential learning,” Ilyas said. “I’m very grateful to the Fletcher administration and the Global Operations office for taking the time to institute these policies, because we’re going to see more and more treks happen at Fletcher, as they should.”

Mulroy expressed her appreciation for the Fletcher community’s responsiveness in revising the trek guidelines.

“Although we faced a few challenges in the fall semester related to student treks, I was incredibly impressed with the ability of the Fletcher community to come together and tackle these challenges thoughtfully. Creating the new policy was a community effort,” Mulroy said. “I am pleased to say that since implementing these policies a month ago, we have already had one trek apply through Student Affairs. They were approved several days ago and will begin planning a trek to Saudi Arabia for winter break.”