Living Routes program shuts down

By Marie MacCune

Flickr/Michael Nyika
Flickr/Michael Nyika

Study abroad provider Living Routes has shut down after suspension of its Affiliation Agreement with the University of Massachusetts following an incident that occurred last semester involving a student participating in a Living Routes program at the Monteverde Institute in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

On Dec. 27, UMass suspended the agreement, which had enabled students to receive academic credit while abroad with a Living Routes program. The office, located in Amherst, shut down late last month, according to an article by the Associated Press.

Twenty-eight students have been affected by this suspension, according to an article published by Inside Higher Ed. Living Routes is responsible for finding these students alternative programs to participate in.

According to their website, Living Routes was a study abroad provider focused on giving students an environmental experience where they could work with the land they lived on. Students lived around the world in what the non-profit organization called “eco-villages.”

Their website also said that the organization is expecting to legally dissolve by March 31st.In an open letter, the student involved in the incident talked about being raped while abroad.

According to her letter, the director of the Monteverde Institute, Deborah Hamilton, forced the student to sign legal waivers and report the assault, telling the victim that it was her “legal obligation” to do so.

In Costa Rica, only the victim of a crime has the right to report that crime, but he or she is under no legal obligation to do so, according to a document released by the Pan American Health Organization.

According to a letter sent by Jack Ahern, Vice Provost for International Programs at UMass, Living Routes became aware of the “serious, and potentially life threatening, health/safety issue” on Dec. 2, but failed to notify the University.

Ahern states that the University remained unaware of the incident until Dec. 18, when a resident of Monteverde emailed UMass faculty about his concern regarding “the handling and treatment of the victim.”

Living Routes continued to withhold information from the University until Ahern received an email on Dec. 22, which confirmed the incident and released the name of the victim.

Ahern wrote, “(UMass Amherst) has grave concerns regarding Living Routes’ ability to fulfill its contractual obligations to be responsible for all health, risk and safety issues that may arise during a program’s term, to communicate with (UMass Amherst), and to provide equal access to the Program’s resources.”

UMass has requested the return of all payments made for the spring 2014 semester, which is estimated to be over $200,000.
Both Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College, neither of which were ever affiliated with Living Routes, continue to send students to the Monteverde Institute, according to school officials.

This is not the first time Living Routes has been involved in a health and safety issue with the University. According to an article published by MassLive, UMass student Katherine Sherman died in 2008 while participating in a Living Routes program in India.

Officials in India ruled her death a suicide; however, an independent autopsy performed in the U.S. ruled the results inconclusive.

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected]