As Russo-Ukraine War escalates, Fall Romers face a difficult decision

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On Sept. 19, Dr. Peter Hatlie, dean and director of the University of Dallas’ Rome Program, spoke to the Fall Rome Class of 2022 during a mandatory meeting. The topic of his address: the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War. During the meeting, Hatlie described the seriousness of the escalating tensions between the two countries. He provided safety tips and assured students that the university has measures in place to protect them in the event of an emergency. 

In a letter sent to Fall Romers and their parents on Sept. 19, Hatlie stated: “UD Rome is fully prepared to house, feed, and protect its residents from any fallout, including the remote possibility that a radioactive cloud were to be blown in the direction of Italy. A Preparedness and Action Plan for such an event has already been drawn up and formalized. This Plan would allow all members of the UD Rome community to feel and be safe and secure from harm for up to five (5) days from both radiation exposure and any panic or public unrest resulting from an emergency.” 

While Hatlie’s acknowledgment of potential nuclear warfare was disturbing to some students, others appreciated his candor and prudence. John Paul Moleski, an undeclared sophomore in Rome, praised Hatlie’s foresight. 

“I was really happy to see that [Hatlie] has a plan in place. It’s reassuring to know that he’s mindful of our safety,” said Moleski. “It’s clear that he really cares about the well-being of his students.” 

John Pugh, a sophomore English major also in Rome, expressed his appreciation for Hatlie’s directness: “There were some kids and parents who were a bit upset about Hatlie’s letter … they thought he was unnecessarily heightening anxiety about the situation. I think he did exactly what needed to be done. The reality of the situation is that this [war] could potentially escalate into an international emergency. [Hatlie] is partially responsible for the safety of hundreds of kids traveling around Europe, for him to ignore the war in Ukraine would be irresponsible.”

As a consequence of these heightened tensions, Hatlie has strongly discouraged travel to European nations bordering Russia. This includes popular destinations such as Poland and Hungary, as well as Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Belarus and Moldova. Though described in his letter as “off limits,” Hatlie has not totally banned students from traveling to these countries. 

“We’re not able to hold you prisoner or anything like that, but my advice to students considering travel to these countries would be ‘absolutely not … and that includes Poland,” said Hatlie.

With 10-Day underway and additional opportunities to travel in November, students are confronted with a difficult decision: heed Hatlie’s advice and avoid these historically popular destinations or travel to these countries anyway and risk being caught in the crossfire of an increasingly hot war.

Despite Hatlie’s stern warning, many students, including junior business major Michael Amato, have elected to travel to Poland and Hungary anyway. 

“Being able to travel to these incredible countries with a group of your closest friends is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Kraków and Budapest, specifically, have always been bucket list destinations for me,” said Amato. “I have a lot of respect for Dr. Hatlie and his advice but this opportunity is just too sweet to pass up.”

Amato’s words are indicative of the overall sentiment of students in Rome. The university, to its credit, advertises the Rome Program as a main attraction to prospective students. It is where the Core Curriculum comes together and is an undeniably transformative experience. Many students come to UD with the expectation of enjoying all the wonderful fruits that the program has to offer, including the ability to travel freely with their closest friends. Like Amato, they recognize how privileged they are to be able to do so. 

As a student currently in Krakow, with plans to also visit Budapest, I must say I find this position justified. Like many other students, I have grown up hearing stories from UD alumni about great adventures enjoyed during 10-Day and long weekends. Even considering the aforementioned risks associated with traveling to these counties, I, like Amato, find this opportunity “too sweet to pass up.”

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