Program leaders discuss university trip cancellations


Photo courtesy of Office of the Provost.

Southern Miss announced the cancellation of all university sponsored trips on March 9, including the Italian study abroad trip and the Center for Community Engagement’s trip to New York City. 

The Division of Student Affairs has also strongly recommended avoiding international travel and asked for students to register any personal travel they may take over spring break. The provost warned that any student who travels over spring break may have to go into a 14 day self-quarantine. 

The Office of Study Abroad has released a statement saying summer programs that do not have a CDC Alert Level 2 or higher or a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Level 3 or higher are still scheduled to go. The statement also included a list of countries where travel has been banned, which includes China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea. 

Shawn Bertucci is a mass communications graduate student who said cancelling the Italian study abroad was a smart move.

“It is better to be safe than sorry,” Bertucci said. “The university has been keeping a close eye on students who had not just been out of the country, but even out of the state, so it is a good precaution.”

Bertucci said he has mixed feelings on the university asking students to register personal travel. Bertucci said on one hand, it is responsible to cancel trips until the university can understand what the whole circumstances are behind coronavirus. 

“On the other hand, it is one of those ‘who trumps whose’ rights situations,” Bertucci said. “If students want to set up their own thing and go do it, by all means.”

Bertucci said he feels bad for the seniors who will not be able to go on these events because he fondly remembers the feeling leading up to his own study abroad trip to London last summer.

“To have the rug pulled out from under your feet, I would have been heartbroken about that,” he said.”

Nneka Ayozie is the assistant director for the Southern Miss Center for Community Engagement, where she coordinates all alternative service break trips. 

“Due to the cancellation of this year’s NYC trip, we are planning to reschedule the same trip for spring break of 2021,” Ayozie said. “There are no current plans to create a similar experience in Hattiesburg during spring break.”

Ayozie said the cancellation was necessary so the group could stay in alignment with university mandates on how to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Jon Pluskota, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Southern Miss who leads a class to go to SXSW in Austin, Texas. Pluskota has been hosting the SXSW class since 2015.

“Last week, which was the week before we were scheduled to fly, I started a communication channel with my dean,” Pluskota said. “It is not just about students getting sick, but what happens if they bring it back to Mississippi.”

Pluskota said he looked at the possibility of SXSW not being cancelled and what the school would do. On March 6, Pluskota said he and his dean were leaning towards cancelling the trip because there was a high risk for everyone involved.

“No sooner [after] I got off the phone with [the dean], I got a text message from a friend in Austin,” Pluskota said. “He said he did not know if it was official, but the City of Austin cancelled the event.”

When coronavirus started to pop up in the states and more cases were showing up, Pluskota said he started to think how he would react.

“I started thinking, ‘As a teacher, do I run away from this or look at it as a learning opportunity,’” he said. “I was already thinking what I could change in the class if I had to.” 

Pluskota said students have to be smart when it comes to coronavirus by washing your hands, not putting your hands on your face and carrying wipes around.

“I think the university is smart. Someone can go to Florida over spring break, and someone else goes to Texas and bring it back,”  Pluskota said. “I think the idea of minimizing the risk until we can figure it out is a smart practice.”