Reflections on the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher Case (February 2011)

Amanda Knox, Original artwork by Hiroshi Mizuno

Tonight, I watched Lifetime Channel’s version of the Amanda Knox conviction. As an international educator, I felt I needed to watch this movie. As a journalist, I have tried to keep my opinion out of my writing.  I have tried to instead focus on what this case has meant for study abroad.

For study abroad, I believe this case should have meant a huge wake up call.  I am repeatedly surprised by how few of my colleagues agree. I have been told on more than one occasion that our role is simply to inform students that local laws preside. But should our job also include giving them a sense of what the local laws could mean in their lives abroad by providing more specific detail?  Is it our responsibility, morally and ethically, to spend quality time explaining the local laws and illustrating the gaps between local laws and that of the home country? Should we also be communicating with parents/guardians about how we would need to work together with clear action steps during times of crises?

Or do we say “not my job.”

Please let me be clear here:  I am not pointing fingers at anyone in this particular case.  I haven’t contacted Ms. Knox’s home school to ask them what they did/didn’t do.  That isn’t the point. Instead, I am here to raise questions about how we, as professionals, might operate in our field and to encourage discussion.

And this case, in my opinion, deserves a lot more discussion.

What happened to Ms. Knox in Italy is something we should ALL be concerned about.  It should have raised a serious discussion about pre-departure information and emergency planning in study abroad.

Let’s face it – At the end of the day, do you want to be sitting in front of the TV and see Hayden Pannetiere playing one of YOUR study abroad students on Lifetime’s Monday night movie?

I sure don’t.

At this juncture, I can’t share my opinion about what I think happened.  Perhaps in the future, but not at this time. Those who know me as a friend and close colleague do know my feelings about the case and will vouch for me when I do eventually write about it.

For now, I can share this: I strongly believe that our field should be talking about what prevents us from talking with our students, in much more detail, about the realities of what can happen in a different legal system.

So, I’ll ask again: How has your campus changed its policies/processes related to emergency and safety planning as a result of the Amanda Knox case? If the answer is “my campus hasn’t,” what would you like to see your campus do differently?

For those of you who want to answer but are afraid of being “identified,” I will simply say that you can comment on this blog anonymously.  Your name will not appear on my website and I will not know who you are, nor will any of our readers.

I invite your feedback.  In fact, I crave a hearty discussion about this case.  I challenge you to have one with me.

(NOTE:  I am referring to the question above – How has your campus changed its policies/processes related to emergency and safety planning as a result of the Amanda Knox case? If the answer is “my campus hasn’t,” what would you like to see your campus do differently? I am NOT asking you to have a hearty discussion about whether or not Amanda Knox killed Meredith Kercher.  She was convicted of doing so and the case is under appeal.  If you want to debate her guilt or innocence, this is NOT the site to do so at – there are plenty of other sites for that, so please visit them instead.)

In closing, I wish peace to all of those involved in this horrific case.  Needless to say, may Meredith Kercher, a reportedly delightful young woman from England who was studying abroad in Italy and brutally murdered, rest in peace.

  • When I left for my exchange, the only thing we were told in the way of anything legal, was that the laws of our host country prevailed and that there was no guarantee that the American embassy would be able to do anything at all in terms of protecting us from prosecution.

    I think, more than ever before, it’s extremely important for students to know what the consequences will be if they commit a crime and also to understand that legal systems in a foreign country do operate differently than that of their home country. In my experiences, there seems to be a sense of invincibility when it comes to living as an expatriate, as if your nationality will be sure to keep you out trouble.

    Unfortunately, I think that the saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” applies in this case because you can try to explain these things until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t make your students listen or absorb what it is that you’re trying to tell them.

    • Thanks for your comment Meghan!
      I think the issues you raise are valid – we can’t make students absorb the info all of the time. The challenge that I see is that we embed the standard line about legal that you reference in a larger pre-departure orientation, which is already chock full of information and overwhelming. The format is often “checklist” and “limited time” driven. I think the safety piece needs to be presented by someone of the emergency planning team – as part of a larger presentation on local laws and the gaps in the laws when compared to the home country. This way we all own it and it isn’t just a “study abroad office” task. The information should be reiterated during the local orientation and should reinforce what was shared pre-departure.
      While I agree that it will not always be easy to have students really pay attention to that aspect of preparing them for study abroad, they may perk up if it is given more than a sentence or two (as you received.) Perhaps we should rethink the model for pre-departure meetings, which are often a brain dump in a 2 hour session. Maybe the more standard model should be 3 mandatory meetings of a shorter duration, but more specific content and time for reflection, discussion and review. Of course, one of the challenges then is how to handle for students on different campuses who are attending the same program offered by a university or provider. Do we then rely on technology? Written materials? A more extended orientation upon arrival? An ongoing orientation? Or perhaps there are schools who have some best practices to share – I hope they’ll join the conversation.
      Thanks for the DIALOGUE – I appreciate you taking me up on my challenge! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and from others too.
      Missy

      • I wholeheartedly agree with what you say about the pre-departure sessions being a 2-hour brain dump. They’re often early, on weekends, and towards the end of the semester preceding. If you’ve got exams and the promise of a well deserved winter/summer break nipping at your heels, as important as the pre-departure sessions are, it’s hard to keep focus on something that really doesn’t seem like a “pressing” matter. I really like the idea of multiple sessions to cover specific topics in depth. Understandably, this may make it more difficult for parents to attend, but I think there’s a lot of value in having being able to make students better prepared.

        Touching on what you said about students attending the same program from a different university, I think the best information about the laws and how they work are best provided by the partner foreign university. It would be great if they could have local law enforcement share in the responsibility of educating foreign students on how the legal processes are handled, from “lower” offences such as public intoxication to bigger offences like sexual assault or drug possession.

        • I think case studies can be very effective here. The goal is not to scare people – it is to inform – and I don’t know that across the board, our field is really doing its best in this critical piece of the experience. I would also be curious to hear from international student advisers who provide orientation for students coming to the US. In my work, I have always included the local police or public safety in orientation. It is one of the biggest cultural differences there is – and I struggle that it is often given so little attention.

          • Jazmin623

            I didn't write this but really like it & thought I'd bring it here, perfect response to your article:

            ———————————————-

            I went back and read the whole thing and I think she's right. Applicants for independent study abroad should be provided a pamphlet that includes these bullet points:

            Don't sexually assault, torture, and murder your roommate. This is not the United States of America you're in and such antics are frowned upon in other countries.
            Don't lie to the police. American peace officers may enjoy multiple versions of events but other countries are not so able to figure out what you're trying to accomplish.
            Don't stage a break-in after you commit murder. Distracting an investigation might be all right here in the States but many medieval nations will suspect that you've got something to hide.
            Don't lock the victim in a room in your rental accommodation, or your closet, or the trunk of your car. American cops wouldn't even blink and would likely find the closest ethnic minority to blame for what you did. Foreign countries are very backwards this way and their investigators may think you did it.
            Don't turn cartwheels in the police station. It's funny, but a lot of other cultures think that performing gymnastics in the cop shop is truly inappropriate. Here in the good ol' USA, it's just what a free-spirited murder suspect is expected to do.
            Don't hire a PR firm to evaluate your chances of getting away with murder. Our great American system prides itself at bringing everything down to an aggressive marketing campaign. Those barbarians over there prefer rule of law for some odd reason.

            Oh, and don't make a movie out of those points without paying me $56 million.

            stilicho
            2/23
            http://perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&am

            Perugia Murder File

          • Thank you for taking the time to write. I have allowed this comment through – but going forward I will not allow any more "camp" links and comments. The point is to raise dialogue – not to debate who "did it."

          • Norbert

            Ms. Global,

            Our daughter is presently studying in Paris, France. We are aware that a suspect may be held and questioned by police for up to 48 hours without the presence of an attorney before being charged with a crime. However – like Italy, the US, and many other countries – France has laws on its books that allow for the arrest and judgment of individuals suspected of murder. In this respect there's really little difference between domestic and foreign studies.

            Norbert

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  • abroad advisor

    Most study abroad professionals (from my experience) are uneducated when it comes to the laws of foreign lands. Many of us deal with dozens of different countries and cannot be expected to be “experts” on all topics. Admitting this would be a good first step.

    It is difficult to improve the orientation for those spending a semester/year abroad when many universities are much more focused on sending students abroad for a week or two. The only way I see this issue being brought up by the entire field is if the focus turns back to sending students abroad for longer periods of time.

    • Thanks for sharing your ideas. I agree, most are uneducated when it comes to the local laws. However, our partners abroad (even for shorter programs) would have some insight. If the program were not working with a partner abroad, I’d imagine that information on the basics of the laws could be researched or that there is a service that could provide a snapshot on the subject. Perhaps our public safety contacts or insurance/emergency providers would have resources also. I wonder if NAFSA, the Forum and/or IIE would consider putting together materials on this, starting with the top 10 study abroad locations. I feel that we need to start somewhere. I don’t think we would say that bc we don’t know the health care system of a host country, we can’t provide information on it – but we do this for legal issues that could possibly result in jail time (aside from whether or not Ms. Knox “did it”). What are your thoughts? Should we be raising this to our professional associations and looking for some support in this area? Thanks again for taking the time to write – I do appreciate it!

  • I think telling the students what they need to know definitely falls under the umbrella of informing them without overstepping a line! You can tell them that being an American won’t make them immune to laws, that the laws are different, that the consequences are very different… but they’ll yawn and nod and pray the lecture is ending soon. I won’t say zero, but very few students are going to sit down and study a book of every single law before departure. It’s important that students are interested (and therefore actually taking in information), but how to improve the quality of these sessions, especially at a big school where you just have to fit as many students through as quickly as possible, is beyond me. A basic intro to what to expect/do/not do would be helpful in a program’s orientation, though I do think students should take it upon themselves to prepare for their studies! (What educator abroad would seriously do this? What a slap in the face, too- they’d be wondering how committed and interested these kids actually are in the first place.)

    Anyway, I’ll be honest: I hadn’t heard of this case before. That’s probably good, because it was right before I was going to spend a year abroad. Understanding a legal system won’t happen until you’re part of it. I supported a great friend through a case against, well, a bad guy (any more info would be great overshare). It was rough. And she lost, and it was heartbreaking. Support networks are extremely important too. Your study abroad program director and any program assistants, your host family, if you have one- they’re there for you for a reason. They ought to become some of your best friends. I realize that Erasmus is different, but there are divisions of universities dedicated to helping students with the international transition.

    Anyway, through all my rambling what I want to say is that yes, it’s the responsibility of study abroad advisors/counselors to make students aware of differing laws and the consequences of their actions. I don’t think this should be the advertisement for “this is why you don’t act up abroad!”, but students have to make some connections themselves before they realize how they need to behave.

  • pat a.

    Amanda actually went to Perguia independently, and not as a part of a school program. She found a job there and enrolled herself in classes.

    I don’t know if its accurate to describe the differences as “gaps”, as much as differences in favor of against the accused. Her opportunities in the appeals are actually better then in the states, as the appeals court in the states don’t review the whole case, just the technical aspects and procedural aspects. The first appeals court, which knox and sollecito are currently in, reviews all of the evidence of the case, and can elect to look further into evidence, which the appeals court has elected to do with the independent review of two parts of the body of forensic evidence, the dna on the knife and the bra strap.

    Also, their first conviction carries with it the obligation to write a “motivations” for that opinion- whereas an american conviction has no such systematic expression- just media interviews with jurists.

    Also in the appeals court is a higher education level requirement for the jurists sitting on that court.

    Certainly, knox is much more comfortable in an italian jail then she would be in an american one…

  • Thank you for your comments. What happened in this case is not the norm, thankfully.

  • Thank you for your perspective – I appreciate it. I understand that the language school in Perugia is an affiliated program of U of Washington – however, I’m not sure how exactly Amanda went abroad (whether it was through U of W officially or by taking a leave of absence, which is required by some schools.)
    Regardless, for me, it still begs the question of sharing enough information to ensure that students are prepared, as much as they can be. I am not aware of any schools that do provide more than a few sentences about legal differences (what I have called gaps) – i.e. a person can be held in a prison for a more extended period of time in Italy vs the US without having charges filed, etc.
    I agree that people do discuss this issue differently depending on whether or not they think Amanda was responsible for Meredith’s death. However, I do not write about the specifics of that case and “whodunnit” – rather I pose questions to encourage dialogue about how we can improve advising in study abroad. There are programs that provide little pre-departure and post arrival information, and therefore aren’t ensuring that we are maximizing safety for both students and faculty who are taking students abroad. I have raised the question in response to this case – whether or not she officially went through U of W or not – Are we doing enough? Do we really feel that we don’t need to provide more than a blanket statement about differences and personal responsibility? Or is it that we simply haven’t provided this level of advising in the past that we could and our universities have limited funds to hire more staff or outsource the research to provide this information? So far, there are many opinions. I look forward to more dialogue. Thank you again for providing feedback.

    • Many programs make the point about our place in the global community and the need for such programs to continue. I agree with that and the need for education on programs. However travel abroad entails risks that can never be entirely mitigated, and its tragic when it happens. But those risks also can’t be mitigated in our own country as well.

      I’ve personally experienced the gamut of study-abroad horror stories. Co-students on the program behaving irresponsibly, including engaging in the local drug culture. During our independent study, a friend who was traveling solo in a remote location who was just about sexually assaulted. And I would say that that program I was on had a rigorous orientation program-but we weren’t traveling in a western country. (interestingly I just read an article a few hours ago about the experience of female news reporters in foreign countries, following the story out of the egypt demonstrations.)

      You can read about knox’s status here:
      http://truejustice.org/ee/index.php?/tjmk/comments/cutting_through_the_confusion_over_knoxs_status_in_perugia/

      And UW did make some changes
      http://www.seattlepi.com/local/410702_knox05.html

      Many of their changes seem to address the points you raise.

      • Life comes with risk – I'll completely agree that some risks simply can't be mitigated. At the same time, this story has prompted questions about how emergencies and such could be handled. If she were on a study abroad program sponsored by her home school, how COULD she have been advised to respond. For example, would her program have had an emergency card with phone #s to call for advice about how to navigate through this situation (regardless of whether she 'did it' or not)?
        From what I have read in the press, U of Washington, according to another article, started making changes after the Ghana program incident. Many universities still don't have a planned and practiced process in place for emergencies.
        As you said, things will happen abroad. They can happen at home too. The questions are 1) are we truly preparing students to know how to handle themselves WHEN they happen and 2) are we confident that we are doing all that we can to advise them about possible consequences?
        I try to avoid the sites that speak to either "camp". There are those who will say that according to Amanda's camp she was an honor's student studying abroad and that she was in touch with the study abroad office after the murder. The particular link above is from the Kercher camp, and it will have their slant, as does the "Injustice in Perugia" site for the Knox camp. I don't know that either will disclose 'how' she was abroad and what UW's policies were at the time; and I am not here to point fingers at the school – I don't know what they did or didn't do. I am glad, however, that they have made changes as reported in the press.
        Thank you again for your point of view – I appreciate the dialogue.

        • Well, Knox's infamous email home shortly after the murder and that was used used against her in the trial, actually had her course supervisor at the University of Washington cc'd in. Therefore, the UW was upraised and gad the opportunity to offer her help and advice.

          As for sites in support of Meredith Kercher having a slant, I'm not sure how that can be as the only slant there can be for a murder victim is a desire for truth. Only with truth can there be justice, for all concerned, and I would have thought that would be the goal for everyone including the public at large. But, that certainly isn't a "slant".

          • Thank you Michael. I was aware of some emails to the university that were used in court. I understood that they provided some names of resources in Perugia, based on their sister city relationship and that the staff offered their cell numbers.
            We each have our own interpretation of truth. Each "camp" has their version of it and their web sites speak to this, which is why I have avoided keeping it out of the dialogue as they're not talking about how they prepared for safety and emergencies abroad.

          • Well, there's only one truth. Something is true, or it is not and truth doesn't care for agendas.

            But in terms of safety preparation there was none, aside from Knox having the email addy and a phone number of her handler at the UW. And the UW had no obligation, technically, as the UW had no exchange program with the University of Strangers in Perugia and Knox was there as a UW student.

          • Mary H.

            When Amanda Knox wrote the e-mail that allegedly cc'd her course supervisor, she was not under arrest, nor did she have an inkling that she would be under arrest in the near future. There would be no reason for anyone to whom she wrote the e-mail to warn her about what to do in that case.

            Many resources potentially were at hand for Amanda Knox, but because of the way she was arrested — essentially, it amounted to kidnapping — she was not allowed to access them. Help was on the way in the form of Amanda's mother, who would have summoned the American Embassy. Perugian authorities have admitted publicly that they purposely acted to incarcerate Amanda in the hours before her mother was to arrive.

        • I think its clear about Knox's independence in deciding to go to study in italy, whatever you want to believe about Knox. There wasn't a formal placement from UW in perugia, and there wasn't a formal program manager on site. Yes, UW may have implemented extra steps, but there's a limit to their responsibility for an adult studying independently in a foreign country-particularly when the adult runs afoul of foreign law.

          College is often times the first time US students are away from under their parents rule, yet still not wholly responsible for their own support- and thus a time that many students take advantage of the "freedom" this offers to have fun- some good, some bad. Some students can tend to go even more towards 'irresponsibility' when overseas.
          For those young adults who still haven't yet learned personal responsibility, I don't think there's much pre-orientation that could be done to mitigate the troubles they run into.

          • Personal responsibility is a big issue. I had commented on this in another reply. I don't know that there is any tool out there that measures how "successful" a pre-departure orientation is. It is such a tricky issue – as I've seen students with lower GPAs who have never left their homes states BLOOM abroad and I've also seen great students who don't appreciate the experience as much as one might anticipate.
            I mentioned in another comment that the human brain doesn't finish developing until the mid 20s…and that results in young people often being more impulsive and not as skilled in decision making. This is what we're often faced with when sending students abroad, hence my interest in talking through how we can prepare them better.

    • Melibee Wrote:

      "Regardless, for me, it still begs the question of sharing enough information to ensure that students are prepared, as much as they can be. I am not aware of any schools that do provide more than a few sentences about legal differences (what I have called gaps) – i.e. a person can be held in a prison for a more extended period of time in Italy vs the US without having charges filed, etc."

      Hi Melibee,

      Well, even that kind of warning may be considered by some to be over the top, scare scaremongering even. This is because precautionary custody in Italy is actually very rare. Even for murder, freedom is the norm while one awaits possible trial and it is not uncommon to still be free even if convicted, whilst one goes through the appeals until confirmation of sentence. There are exceptions, notably for terrorism, mafia crimes and sexual violence. Other factors are also taken into consideration, such as flight risk or the potential for the individual to tamper with witnesses and/or evidence. In the case of Amanda Knox, it was the sexually aggravated aspect of the murder that led to her primarily being retained in custody (as that is considered to present a real and present danger of re-offending). There was also a flight risk element with her being an American citizen, although I suspect the Italians would have later re-evaluated that risk in her favour were it not for the extremely aggressive PR/advocacy campaign for Knox in America. Therefore, for these reasons, Knox was kept in custody but as the exception rather then the rule. That's why it could be considered scaremongering. Yes, this has happened to Knox but this is very rarely the case in Italy and the chances of this happening to another American student are…negligible.

      However, I certainly do think that information packs of some kind, tailored for the country they are visiting, should be given to students or perhaps be made available online (for tourists too for that matter).

  • Anonymous

    I think that this case has further implications than warning students about the different legal systems. I think there needs to be a much more structured approach to the supervision of students who are studying in other countries. insufficient supervision can lead to students going off the rails lets not forget that Amanda Knox isn’t the only American student in an Italian jail for murder. We should also be giving equal focus on not ending up like Merredith Kercher.

    • Thank you for your comment. I have mentioned this case as a "wake up call" to those in the field of advising for study abroad. Students will always get themselves in trouble abroad – from the petty to the more serious situations – yet it is still our goal to ensure that we are preparing them to know a) what to do if they are out of line abroad and b) what the possible consequences are.
      Meredith Kercher should never be forgotten in this case. She did nothing but return to her new home abroad to experience the unthinkable- how it happened is still being questioned by the Knox camp and it will be interesting to see what happens in the appeal.
      Obviously, we should never forget Meredith Kercher and what happened to her and her family and friends. Frankly, it is hard to even imagine.
      Do you have specific examples of other study abroad students in prison abroad for murder? If so, I'd be interested in learning more.

  • Daoud

    First, as a journalist and teacher you should have spent a little time proof-reading your piece – a dictionary will tell you the meaning of the word ‘preside’, capital letters don’t follow a dash, and ‘nothing’ is not an answer to ‘How has your campus changed its policies/processes related to emergency and safety planning as a result of the Amanda Knox case?’. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    Although Meredith Kercher gets a brief mention in passing at the very end of your piece, your focus is on the fate of A Knox, not Meredith Kercher. Why is this – would not Meredith Kercher have substantially benefited from some advice about ‘crises’ abroad?

    More importantly, would not a better strategy be to warn your students of the dangers, rather than the ‘gaps’ in the laws (whatever this might mean), such as having as a room-mate with a tyger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide?

    Finally I think we should ALL be concerned about what happened to poor Meredith Kercher, rather than what happened to A Knox, who was the author of her own fate…

  • The advice one should give students traveling abroad is the same as the advice one should give anyone: never talk to the police about a major crime without consulting a lawyer first and having him or her present during all questioning. An innocent person can stumble onto a crime scene anywhere and become a suspect. Italian cops are no worse than many US police in those situations. The problem in this case is that they can be just as bad.

    • Yes, Charlie, I agree with this – and this is something that should be shared with every student. I can assure you that it isn't.

      • Actually, that would be the wrong advice to give. If, in Italy, you insisted on a lawyer when police wanted to speak to you as a witness, you’d find yourself automatically under arrest and would become a legal formal suspect. Whilst formal suspects have the legal right to a lawyer, witnesses do not. And as a formal suspect, the situation has just got a whole lot more serious for you.

  • There have been a few more recent comments, including a snippy English lesson (thank you for your feedback!) Thank you to those who shared their thoughts. I will reiterate that I am not here to comment on who I think murdered Meredith Kercher. If anyone else comments with "safety means don't live with a murderer" type of replies, I will not post it. It does not help to create dialogue about what we can do to enhance safety in our field for students and faculty. There are plenty of web sites and chat rooms for everyone to post their opinion about the crime. THIS is not the place.
    I will again state, as it appears to still be unclear, that Meredith Kercher was a study abroad student who remains part of this conversation on safety. She is in the title of this piece because she studied abroad and she was the victim of a horrific crime. Believe it or not, I think about her all the time. She could have been one of "my" students and anyone who knows me as an adviser knows that I deeply care for and mentor "my" students. As I don't know the norms about how her study abroad program was set up in England, I have commented less on her in my writing. I have no idea if her home school provided tips on finding housing, how to find/screen a roommate, how to deal with locals who have bad reputations, how to address issues with landlords (i.e. the supposed front door not shutting well), etc. AGAIN, I am not here to debate what happened to Meredith when she innocently came home that night. I am not a detective, I am a study abroad consultant. Please never misread my lack of sharing specific thoughts on Meredith's safety or school processes as lack of interest in her life and what happened to her. This would be a terrible misunderstanding.
    Again, if you're going to comment, please do so about the subject. Don't embed who you think did it in the reply – I simply won't post it. Thank you all for participating in a useful conversation!

  • Thank you for the English lesson Daoud. I might need to hire you as my editor! 🙂
    I answer your question above in a more general comment. Thanks again for writing.

  • Daoud

    First off, sorry if I sounded 'snippy' – but you are an 'international educator' and journalist, so I expect you to get the basics right! 🙂 The tenor of your article seems to be at odds with your comment beginning 'There have been a few more recent comments, including a snippy English lesson …" .

    For a start, in the original article your concern was clearly with those who may find themselves in A Knox's position – "…do you want to be sitting in front of the TV and see Hayden Pannetiere playing one of YOUR study abroad students on Lifetime’s Monday night movie?" to give just one example. Furthermore, had you been thinking about the murdered student Meredith Kercher, how would a knowledge of local laws have helped in her moment of crisis?

    Finally you end the article with an appeal: "I crave a hearty discussion about this case. I challenge you to have one with me."

    Whether or not A Knox murdered Meredith Kercher is not a matter of opinion, but an established judicial fact – albeit one which is currently under appeal, and the original verdict might be overturned. How one can have a 'hearty discussion about this case' without accepting this is beyond my comprehension – what would the point be?

    • Blogging is still an art form that I'm working on – so thanks for keeping a sense of humor about my ongoing education! 🙂 I hear your points and will reflect on them. I will note that I did ask a talented artist to create some original artwork for this particular blog posting – and after our discussion and his own research in the press, he came up with the piece that is ultimately at the root of this ongoing conversation – is Amanda the picture that some think she is, or is she the opposite? Again, I'm not a detective, I don't know all the facts – I was not there. As a result, I have simply tried to write about how I, as a seasoned study abroad director and adviser, would respond if she had been "my" student. At the end of the day, I am American and while I've lived abroad in England and Switzerland (in Ticino), my life experience is that of an American. I know the American study abroad processes and comment on them. As Amanda was at an American university prior to studying abroad, I comment on what I know in terms of processes and questioning whether we have developed new best practices in preparing students for extremely unusual situations abroad. Hypothetically, say she were on UW's program – or that she got advice to attend that program even if she took a leave of absence – I have asked myself "what was done pre-departure, post arrival and at the time of the critical incident" in terms of advising her. What could have been done regardless of whether or not she is or isn't guilty?
      My comment about the TV show was simple – no one would want to see their student in a made for TV show under these circumstances. I didn't mention Meredith in this situation because I am not sure that anything her home school could have done prior to her departure would have changed the fact that she walked into her home, innocently, only to be brutally murdered.
      I do crave a hearty discussion about this case – related to the question that I raised – "what are schools doing differently as a result of it". I'm talking about policy and processes.
      And to your final point – yes, Amanda was convicted. But keep in mind that there are people who will bet their lives and careers that she was a victim of Mignini. I'm not saying that I'm one of those people – I'm acknowledging that there is a lot of press about this in the US and it cannot be disregarded when I write.
      Assuming the verdict stands – I'm not sure that anything I'd write about safety and security (short of how to pick a roommate) could help any student in Meredith's case. Perhaps the housemates asked Amanda for references? Would that have changed anything? I'd assume that she would have found someone to write or provide a solid one. Meredith was murdered – I'm not really seeing where there is a policy or process change that would prevent or change what happened to her. I wish there were a more easy answer to that.
      I'll say it again – I don't mean to sound as if I'm ignoring or disregarding what happened to Meredith. As an adviser, educator – human – I have cried for her and her family. And I have also cried for Amanda and her family – whether or not she did it.
      You are providing a hearty discussion – and I appreciate that.

  • Lauowolf

    When my kid went off for a year of study in London, I went along to bring an extra suitcase of stuff! and get a chance to look over where she'd be staying.
    As a result I was there when she was going through the orientation process and got a running commentary from her about it.
    Generally, I think she would pretty much characterize it as intrusive, annoying, condescending and a total waste of time.
    Her impression (and mine) was that they devoted much too much time playing get-to-know-you games – mostly with groups of people she literally never saw again – and very little time on things that would have been of any use.
    They were allowed almost no unscheduled time until "orientation" was over, so that finding things like hangers or file folders and generally settling in getting to know her roommate didn't start happening until the oppressive welcoming activities were out of the way.
    Seriously, the extroverts will get to know people just fine on their own; the introverts, like my kid, find this stuff excruciating and unhelpful, and will also find friends on their own.
    Here's a hint: if it is a fundamentally social experience (pub quiz, pizza night), but you are having to require them to attend because otherwise they won't? That is a message from the universe that this particular activity is a waste of time and should be tossed.
    What would she have preferred over memorizing random peoples' names by associating them with their favorite vegetables and pub sports trivia games with mandatory attendance?
    I mean, these kids already know how to party, you don't need to require them to attend yours.
    Since there were about 20 of them going to be using a communal kitchen, that would have been a natural social unit that should have been reinforced (possibly leading to less food theft and general filthiness later in the term).
    Maybe using that group as a basis of *all* orientation would have been a means of creating community by keeping the same group of faces together.
    Any grouping for orientation needs to be based on some kind of independently existing structure: if not physical location (dorm hallway) then by an academic class (the future enrollment in some class with about 20 students), so that after orientation that same group will continue to come face to face.
    Otherwise it's basically wasted.
    Specific activities?
    Instead of having one bored student walk them around the block once, getting them out into a variety of the local stores would have been useful.
    Maybe a neighborhood scavenger hunt for items they would actually eventually need, with a detailed and annotated local map provided, in groups of perhaps two rooms each?
    Perhaps one the first day based quite locally, and one at the close of the week sending them farther afield?
    I know some of those kids never found the great fish and chips place four blocks away and spent their entire time there eating at the McDonalds at the tube station.
    Some students need a bit of help to break out of their initial comfort zone.
    How to get their attention long enough to actually impart things they really do need – things like What To Do if they find themselves talking to the police?
    Maybe severely cut the amount of unnecessary nonsense meetings, so there is only one, densely informative, orientation.
    Maybe that meeting needs to be in a relatively small group, and be the same one in which they get things like IDs and keys – the functional necessities, so that the necessary information is seen as similarly functional.
    As is, I think my kid ended up with something like a two-inch file of random stuff, most of which was just tossed out, in which there were perhaps four sheets of paper with genuinely useful and necessary information.
    And, frankly, by the time orientation week had ended, she pretty much loathed everyone involved in it, there being a lovely, interesting city out there to discover, and those people kept requiring that she sit in the student union and play stupid games.
    She greeted the beginning of the actual term with joy.
    What did they do right?
    Part of their academic program was a required 2-unit course on The British.
    They had an array of excellent weekly speakers-not just academics, but also journalists and activists and politicians.
    Another of her classes (sorta randomly) had them visit the local law courts.
    I think students take these things only as seriously as the institutions do, and these things on the academic side had a great deal more impact.
    How to work that into an orientation?
    I don't know, my own thought would be to scrap the entire "feel good" aspect of the orientation experience, schedule it as a 1 unit workshop course, put actual information about their host country into it, and cut the rest of the activities to a bare minimum.

    • I am a big fan of "on-going orientation". It allows for ongoing reflection and addresses different styles of learning. I'm sorry you had a bad experience – did you or your "kid" provide feedback to the program with this level of detail? I think they'd appreciate hearing your perspective – I would if I were running that program!

  • Gladys

    I notice you place Amanda Knox first in the title of your article. Shouldn’t this be “The Meredith Kercher case”? Meredith Kercher was the victim here. Yet another subtle attempt at erasing the true victim. The PR campaign of the Knox family has been very effective.

  • Johnnyjingo

    The issue is not about different legal systems, it is about the freedoms and a lack of accountability given to students who go abroad to work or study. All my children have studied and worked abroad (USA, Europe, China). Granted, in some countries there is less freedom. Young people need to be made aware when this is the case. But it is not applicable to Italy. Italy is a modern, democratic, society. The issue is about preparing our children to cope with the freedom they will face when away from the constraints of their home lives. And you do not need to move countries to be exposed to such freedoms. Might Amanda Knox have behaved in a similar manner if, for example, she had moved to a distant state in the USA?

  • However I word it, someone is going to take issue with it. I am not trying to erase Meredith, but thank you for sharing your opinion.

  • Interesting points. There are definitely issues with less mature students who find that not having "helicopter parents" hovering over them results in taking freedom to new heights. I have read that the brain does not finish developing until sometime in the early 20s – and that issues related to impulsiveness in this age group will always be an issue. Yes, perhaps she would have behaved differently in another part of the US or another country. But you raise another important point: How do we ensure responsible behavior? Can we?

    • Johnnyjingo

      As they grow, children must be allowed to be exposed to the "wrongs" they will encounter but in a manner where they can reflect, honestly, on their behaviour. Once, in my late teens, I was horribly drunk. My father did not belt me nor chastise me, nor threaten or exclude me. He did not preach. He simply asked if I had really enjoyed the experience. He admitted it is a common thing among youth and asked me to reflect on the consequences of my behaviour for me. I tell my students about the the things I did when their age. I do not preach, I accept. They reflect, hopefully.

      • Beautifully stated! We must learn from experience – which is why we want students to go abroad in the first place. You raise a common concern – no matter how much we "inform", sometimes people will need to simply learn on through experience. Ideally, we don't judge – and we hopefully reflect and grow as a result. Thank you for your words.

        • Johnnyjingo

          There is a subtle distinction here, between "inform" and "share". I feel that "inform" has an element of controlled guidance about it (which is essential in many situations). But kids, especially my own, often balk at such. "Share" carries no value judgment. It provides an opportunity for youth to know that we, as parents, are not guiltless. They can judge us for our past misdemeanors (and the consequences of such) and then see their own behaviour in a more mature perspective (maybe?).

          • I hear you – I just wish that the US legal advisers agreed. The release forms we're required to have students sign are daunting at best! As a result, we're often required to "inform" vs "share"….although I hope that my own version of "informing" students over the years has felt more like sharing…. 🙂

  • Sorry, thought I had replied to this. Michael, thanks for raising this. What I should have agreed to was that any student in this situation (accused of a crime, being questioned about a crime) should be told to contact their local embassy for a referral for legal advice. I am not a lawyer, and I'm not sure if you are one, so I cannot verify what you have said – but I can certainly understand that getting a lawyer could be interpreted poorly. Again, thanks for raising the point.

    • Michael raises a significant point in that Italian law draws a distinction between a witness and a suspect, with the former having no right to representation. The practical significance is described as follows:

      “The suspect has a right to immediate legal assistance. If the police, however, do not want the suspect to be assisted, they simply do not allow him to call his lawyer or they question him as a witness, since witnesses do not have the right to have legal assistance during questioning. A distinction, however, must be made between the investigation by the police on the one hand and the investigation by prosecutors in subsequent stages of the proceedings on the other.

      “The police tend to restrict the right to legal assistance, especially in the first stages of the proceedings, in order to get as much information as possible from the suspect.
      A public prosecutor would never explicitly dare to do that. Very often, however, lawyers are silenced and not allowed to speak during an interview of the suspect before a public prosecutor.

      “An example of questioning the suspect as a witness can be found in the following murder case.
      The suspect entered the police station as a witness at 15:00h. He got out at 7:00h the following day charged as a suspect and arrested and brought to jail. According to the written record of the interrogation he made a confession at about 5:00h after having been visited by a doctor and having been given two psychotropic drugs (Didergot and Aurorix). The lawyer was only called so that he could be given the written record of the interrogation. The written record, however, turned out to be fundamentally different from what was actually said and recorded on tape. The suspect never actually said that he had killed the victim and simply but incoherently answered in a confused way the questions of the public prosecutor. Notwithstanding the fact that the suspect at trial withdrew his confession, he was sentenced to 21 years mainly on the ground of the confession.”

      http://www.ecba-eaw.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=981&Itemid=31

      I don’t know what would happen if someone nominally classed as a witness, and thereby not having any right to legal representation, simply refused to answer any more questions. A major difference between the US and Italian systems is that in the US, a suspect must be charged at the time of arrest or shortly thereafter. In Italy, a suspect can be arrested and held for a year before charges are brought. Hence US attorneys routinely tell police, “charge my client or let him go; either way, he has nothing to say.” That wouldn’t work in Italy.

  • Thank you for sharing this information. This is the type of information that one would assume that Amanda didn't know. Whether she "did it" or not, it would have been helpful for her to know what her rights were and what the process was – and I'm guessing (although I don't know for certain) that she didn't speak with the US embassy to ask for an English speaking legal referral. I wonder if she had been advised of these basic difference in our laws if she would have responded differently the morning after the murder? This again raises the question – should we be providing basic legal differences and examples of consequences in other countries beyond the general statement that "you are under the local laws and we can't help you if something happens?"

    • It wouldn't have made any difference. This is because Knox was not allowed to contact anyone, be it a lawyer or the embassy until her first appearance in court two days later. She would only have been allowed to contact a lawyer within that time frame if the investigating judge wished to interrogate her again (in which case, by law a lawyer must be present).

      • Mary H.

        Two of Amanda's roommates were witnesses, and they obtained lawyers before becoming suspects, with no negative consequences. There is no reason to claim that "Whilst formal suspects have the legal right to a lawyer, witnesses do not."

    • Amanda may have had an obligation to answer questions prior to her arrest, which is not something one is required to do in the US, although the police often convince them it is in their interest to cooperate. I have seen transcripts of Us interrogations where an innocent person has been browbeaten into a false confession after being explicitly told he is not under arrest and is free to leave at any time.

      Probably the best advice is to tell people that if they are ever questioned in connection with a major crime, they should never assume they are above suspicion, even if they are completely innocent, and they should continue to deny any possibility of involvement in the crime no matter what. Even that may not be enough. Eric Volz certainly never admitted involvement in the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Nicaragua. He had seven alibi witnesses who testified he was at his office, a three-hour drive away, when the murder took place. He was convicted anyway and it took a major effort to get him out.

  • Again, if a witness refused to answer questions and remain silent, they would be arrested, or at the least made a formal suspect. In Italy suspects have the right to remain silent, witnesses do not. Should a witness insist on remaining silent and calling a lawyer, embassy, parents, they would find themselves in very hot water since that would be viewed as obstruction. Moreover, it would provide suspicion that they had something to hide.

    And actually, Knox was charged at the time of her arrest, or at least the Italian equivalent of it. That took place two days later when her arrest was formalised by the court (and is done so on the prima face evidence). But, if you mean charged in the sense of being referred to trial, yes, that can wait a year (or as long as two but that's rare), since someone can only be referred to trial after a pre-trial…which is really a kind of mini trial and that can only take place once the investigation has been fully completed and the file is filed with the court by the prosecutor. But really, you are comparing chalk and cheese, as charged does not mean the same thing or work the same way in the two systems. The same can be said with the terms 'witness' and 'suspect', as in Italy those aren't what they are called. Both are also formal legal designations, not simply perspectives.

  • Lamont

    I helped two foreign students by doing a little translating for them years ago. Their orientation seemed very good. They came from a country where it was common to give “gifts” to police in exchange for the police to “forget” an indiscretion. That doesn’t fly in the States, and they were told so during orientation.

    If nothing else, this tragedy in Perugia should be a wake up call for everyone involved with study abroad programs. The vast majority of the time it is a wonderful learning experience, but bad things can and do happen, and perhaps students and parents will plan appropriately (administrators can only do so much, but more discussion about legal issues may be a good idea).