How Has the Amanda Knox Case Impacted Study Abroad?

Amanda Knox behind bars

In the US, we are preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll be hunkering down in the kitchen, chopping, mixing and baking away.  In Italy, Amanda Knox and her attorneys are preparing for her appeal scheduled for Wednesday.

With Ms. Knox’s appeal quickly approaching, I again began to think about the implications of her arrest and conviction on study abroad program administration.  I recently posed the following question to colleagues in the field: “How many of your institutions (US, non-US) made policy or process changes as a result of the Knox case?”

Let me again state that my role is not to comment on whether or not I think Ms. Knox is innocent or guilty in the murder of Meredith Kercher, a British study abroad student. It is also not to challenge how the evidence was reviewed in a legal system that is different than that of my own country. However, it is important to ask the question so that we may better understand how, as university administrators, we can best prepare our students for an experience abroad and to understand what implications, if any, there are as a result of this rare case.

I had several responses to the question above.  I believe all replies were from the US, although one was from an American who has lived in Italy for 20 years. The majority of respondents confirmed that their institutions have not changed their processes dramatically. Most stated that they continue to provide information about what the embassy ‘can and cannot do’ to assist in the event of an emergency or crime. Some now specifically cite the Knox case as an example of how visitors in a foreign country are subject to local laws.

Interestingly, several commented specifically on the lack of institutional liability in a case like this.  Most agree that we are to simply obligated to share information about the realities of other legal systems and then it is up to the student to choose to make wise or poor choices while abroad.

One person referenced how the behavior of “hordes of drunken American students” abroad can fuel the fire when one is faced with local legal action. We know that the primary issue for our students abroad is their lack of discipline when drinking alcohol. Did visiting American students partying into all hours of the night in Perugia impact the public’s perception of Ms. Knox? No one can say for sure.

There are those who simply say that this case isn’t anything more than common sense – if you commit a crime, expect to suffer the consequences, even if you don’t fully understand them in a different legal system (or your own for that matter.)

The only other recent commentary that I’ve read in the media about this subject – and it may translate well to a young generation who respond to slick and hip blog sites – is this tongue in cheek post called “How Not to Get Arrested When You’re Abroad:  A Foxy Knoxy Inspired Guide” on New York’s Gawker.com.

The reality is that we do have an obligation to notify students about the potential consequences of their behavior abroad. Perhaps that means spelling out for them what can happen in a worse case scenario, using examples like Ms. Knox’s situation.  It may also mean that we need to create a specific process about what to do if you are a witness to a crime scene – such as carrying an emergency card with you at all times, calling your embassy for advice and refusing to speak with anyone until you have legal representation so that you understand the possible implications of your voice and actions.  (Sadly, this also applies to Steve Moore, the ex-FBI and ex-Pepperdine University employee who was fired for allegedly refusing to stop voicing his opinion about the Knox case.)

Wednesday will prove to be a day where the media is humming with news on this case.  It will be fascinating to see what transpires next.

  • Jlaband

    Weak. Simply weak – akin to aluminum urn American brewed lunch room coffee at best. There is little even tepid information or other “take aways” for anyone. There is no “stand” taken, because the author sidestepped the entire issue through a disqualifying statement that it was only his role to “ask a question.”

    HIgh profile cases such as this demand high profile answers and clear guidance to overseas participants, such as: “you drink and make a mess of yourself, your program’s and your country’s reputation – you get kicked off the program.” Come on all you Ivy Towerites: Put down your hot toddies, and come on down to the ground level, and talk face to face with your soon to be drunken and incarcerated students…. Or perhaps screen your applicants more effectively for students that will participate in an acceptable manner, rather than pursuing a policy of: “Since I can pay, I get to play.”

    • Hello Jlaband. Thanks for taking the time to write, although I must admit I’ve never been compared to lunch room coffee. I don’t even drink coffee, but dang, that can’t be good! As the author of this piece, I’d like to clarify that I am a “her”….and as the only person who appears to be writing about this case from any perspective other than “did she or didn’t she do it”, I don’t profess to HAVE the answer – hence I put the question out there, got some feedback from colleagues and shared it. I’m not at all surprised that people continue to have a strong reaction when the Knox case is raised. You may want to read my post about the “Study Abroad Urban Dictionary” as it may be much more direct than this particular posting and possibly more to your liking. Missy

    • Michelle moore

      Jlaband, I think that it’s OK to simply ask the question, and I feel the writer is really trying to be unbiased. This is what true journalism is”supposed” to be. However, that said, I agree with most of what you say. I’m not so sure the author isn’t as well.
      I’m wondering how much you know about this particular high profile case, though? It is truly one of “the” most messed up cases in history (since the 1800’s), and this kid is (as opposite as the press made it look) innocent. To take a good look at it takes a bit of time, which most people don’t really have. But I have, she’s innocent.
      So, if an innocent student is put in jail for life, THEN, you do have rethink what you just wrote. This WAS a good kid. She was a super intelligent kid, lacking in a few social skills, and she was not the gone wild partier the media made her to be.
      When it comes down to it, instead of “I pay, so I get to play”, it’s actually the college’s who are saying, “Don’t mess with our system, because we need them to keep paying”, as was the case with Pepperdine. Pure fear of backlash
      I completely agree with the things you suggested, and Melibee, as well. It would help both the Universities and students in the end.

  • Dude

    Students should be notified that in Perugia Italy there is a good chance they will be framed if they are in the vicinity of a crime. Also that the authorities in Perugia commit perjury, lie about evidence, and with-hold evidence on what appears to be a routine bases and nothing is said about their lack of integrity or their criminal activity. Apparently the judges support each other regardless of how outlandish the activity of a judge is. In other words, only a fool would attend school in Perugia Italy.

  • Dude

    NOTE: Massei report: The following translates to perjury and with-holding evidence. The bloody footprints were highly advertised as evidence against Amanda and Raffaele. All the alleged foot prints in the apartment, which were found in the listed rooms, were tested for the presence of blood using ‘tetramethylbenzidine’, and all the alleged foot prints tested negative for blood, leaving only one possible bloody foot print in the entire apartment, which is the one on the bath mat that was in the bathroom:

    1) Romanelli’s room
    2) Knox’s room
    3) corridor

    Massei report page 256-257: With respect to the Luminol-positive traces found in Romanelli’s room, in Knox’s room and in the corridor, she [Dr Stefanoni] stated that by analysing the SAL cards “we learn, in contradiction to what was presented in the technical report deposited by the Scientific Police, and also to what was said in Court, that not only was the Luminol test performed on these traces, but also the generic diagnosis for the presence of blood, using tetramethylbenzidine, and this test, gave a negative result on all the items of evidence from which it was possible to obtain a genetic profile” (page 64 hearing Sept. 26, 2009).

  • Vaccarro

    An interesting article. Years ago I was an exchange student in Madrid as part of a program at Kalamazoo College. My wife, also at K-College, studied in France. Later both our sons were exchange students in Costa Rica. All of of us certainly understood that we had to behave, that customs were different in different countries, and that we might not enjoy the same protections and rights when we were abroad as we enjoyed at home.

    But nothing would have prepared us for being arrogantly and impudently framed, which is exactly what happened to Amanda Knox. The so called case against her is nothing more than a cynical but sophisticated hoax perpetuated by police and prosecutors to cover up their own incompetence in the early stages of the investigation. I say this as someone who is the holder of a Ph.D. and two masters degrees and who has conducted research for a living all my life. There is not a chance in the world that Amanda Knox is guilty. Quite literally not a chance.

    I believe I would still allow my child to go to Italy as an exchange student but I would advise him/her in the strongest terms possible to get a lawyer at even the barest hint of trouble. Amanda’s one big mistake is that she failed to get legal protection. The vast majority of the Italian students involved in the case well understood the peril any contact with the Italian police could bring and immediately “lawyered up.” But Amanda, a naive, warm-hearted young woman if ever there was one, believed that in a “civilized” country her innocence would protect her. She paid dearly for this misjudgment.

  • Anonymous

    Amanda’s guilt or innocence aside, the Italian Justice System has not weathered well under the scrutiny of much of the rest of the world. The lesson here is for parents well before their children reach college age to assess the likely locations for the junior year abroad and to ruel some of them out.

    Legal experts of the laws of a country should be consulted. Parents and students should know their risks. The institution can help provide that kind of counsel.

    • @jackbutler,

      You wrote:

      “Amanda’s guilt or innocence aside, the Italian Justice System has not weathered well under the scrutiny of much of the rest of the world.”

      Do you have any actual evidence to support the claim above?