University research trip canceled after terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India

picture-15by Andie Diemer
Dec. 3, 2008

A five-member research group from Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center should have been in New York boarding a plane to Hyderabad, India, on Saturday night, to attend the third annual United-Nations facilitated Internet Governance Forum. But when terrorist attacks broke out about 450 miles from Hyderabad in Mumbai, India on the previous Wednesday, it became questionable whether the group would be able to make the trip because of security concerns. And Elon officials canceled the Dec. 1-6 trip, despite reassurance from the Government of India.

Trip organizers began to monitor the violent attacks in Mumbai, through which the research group’s was scheduled to travel, since the terrorists were targeting Americans and Britons.

The attacks on Mumbai, India’s largest city and financial capital, began on Nov. 26 in what became 10 coordinated terrorist attacks.

Indian security forces were able to regain control on Nov. 29, but not before at least 172 people — 34 of whom were foreign nationals — were killed, with at least another 293 injured. Attacks occured at a railway station, café, popular tourist restaurant, hospital and Mumbai Police Headquarters.

“One member of the five-person Imagining the Internet research group was extremely concerned about the Mumbai terror, and one student’s family was concerned about the group’s safety,” said Janna Anderson, head of the Imagining the Internet Center. “Because there was not 100 percent agreement by all participants that the research expedition should go ahead as planned, Elon administrators advised it was best to cancel.”

Three of the four students were upset the journey was canceled, but understood the concerns expressed by others in the research group.

After consulting with Larry Basirico, dean of international programs, and Nancy Midgette, associate provost, during Thanksgiving break and given the information on hand at the time, School of Communications Dean Paul Parsons made a recommendation to Anderson to cancel the trip.

“A decision like this always involves a comparison of risk versus reward,” Parsons said. “The reward in having Elon students attend the Internet Governance Forum would have been substantial for the students and for our Imagining the Internet Center.”

But since the terrorist attack introduced risk into the equation, a decision to forgo the trip had to be made before it could be asserted if the risk was minimal or not, Parsons said.

“The students and I were excited for the trip to India. It would’ve been a wonderful research and working experience for everyone involved,”said Colin Donohue, coordinator of student media and instructor in communications who was scheduled to travel with the students. “It was a shame that the trip had to end, but the terrorist attacks that lasted three days were tragic and worrisome.”

Other people who were supposed to attend the IGF canceled their reservations and several businesses with headquarters in Mumbai and Hyderabad canceled their travel plans in wake of the terrorist attacks, he said.

“In the end, I wanted to make sure we erred heavily on the side of caution, and that feeling was taken into consideration before the trip was canceled,” Donohue said. “It was a deciding factor.”

Student researcher sophomore Drew Smith said the trip had been in the works for about a month now and that he had been conducting weekly meetings with Anderson to discuss the research being planned to conduct.

“I got my visa in the mail two weeks ago and I was all set to go until we got news about the attacks,” Smith said.

While the trip would have provided him with research opportunity and a different cultural experience, he said he did fell uneasy about flying through Mumbai since the attacks were ongoing and targeted at someone like himself.

“It was a let down for it to get canceled the day before we were supposed to leave, after all the preparation,” Smith said. “But it’s understandable that the school decided not to send us because the attacks happened days before we were set to arrive.”

Smith said it affects the Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center the most.

“The center had documented all of the previous Internet Governance Forums, and now the piece of Internet history that is happening in Hyderabad will not receive the same depth of coverage,” he said.

The group was set to produce a series of documentary video reports on the forum, which would have been added to Imagining the Internet, an online resource with more than 6,000 pages of content illuminating the past, present and future of the Internet.

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