Communication Exchange Canceled; JR going remote

NU-Q students on the spring 2019 Communication Exchange program in Evanston. (Photo/ NU-Q)

Northwestern University in Qatar has cancelled the Communication Exchange program and most face-to-face Journalism Residencies (JRs) planned for Spring 2021 due to travel restrictions and uncertainties caused by COVID-19, according to two emails sent to the class of 2022.

The emails were sent out separately to journalism and communication students on July 23 by administrative assistant Bianca Simon on behalf of Kathleen Hewett-Smith, interim senior associate dean at NU-Q.

“We truly regret that due to the global pandemic and travel restrictions, we had no choice but to cancel those programs for this academic year,” said Marwan M. Kraidy, dean and CEO of NU-Q, in another email to the class of 2022. “I personally feel devastated that the visits and programs you have been dreaming about for years are now on hold.”

Comm exchange and in-person JRs are among many study abroad programs that have been cancelled as a result of the global pandemic. Many juniors at NU-Q expressed dismay.

“For the past two years, I worked so hard to maintain a high GPA because I know how competitive the Comm Exchange program is,” said Afnan Tag, a communication junior. “But now all of a sudden, I can’t believe it is all gone.”

Comm Exchange is a competitive program that allows selected communication juniors to study at the Evanston campus during the spring semester. Although this program is not a requirement for graduation, it allows students to pursue minors not offered at NU-Q and take classes offered at the main campus.

The journalism residency, a 10-week internship program at a professional news or public relations organization for journalism and strategic communication juniors, is a graduation requirement. Current juniors must now complete remote residencies instead.

“[JR] was the only thing I was waiting for throughout university,” said Alanood al-Wahaibi, a journalism junior. “Losing that opportunity has made me disappointed.”

NU-Q would not be requiring remote residencies if the administration could find a way to do in-person ones instead, said Craig LaMay, acting director of the journalism program, in an interview with The Daily Q.

“I would expect that even if hypothetically physical JR times were available next year… they’d be limited by geography, what the disease is like, what source or herd immunities are available in countries you might be going to,… and a whole bunch of other questions,” he added.

In the past, NU-Q allowed some students to do their journalism residencies during their senior year, albeit under exceptional circumstances, such as when a student could not fulfill all the prerequisites by their junior year. However, the emails to the class of 2022 made clear that this time current juniors will not be allowed to apply for either Comm Exchange or JR programs during their senior year. Some students expressed frustration with this decision.

“It feels like our batch is being thrown under the bus just so that the next batch is not affected,” said Noor Haddad, a communication junior. “They are trying to take the easy way out by cancelling the whole thing.”

As several communication students were planning to take classes in Evanston in order to fulfill requirements for minors, NU-Q is working to find alternative options, Dean Kraidy said in an email to The Daily Q.

In one of the emails sent to the class of 2022, Associate Dean Kathleen Hewett-Smith stated that Comm Exchange and face-to-face JRs were cancelled partly because of budget constraints. However, in response to questions from The Daily Q, Dean Kraidy clarified the cancellations were made to ensure students’ health and safety.

“Our decision is based on the information available to us and our best estimation of what the year would bring,” he said. “The budget savings were incidental and in fact painful and regrettable — this is the kind of programming we absolutely would fund if we thought it was safe and feasible.”

Some students said they were upset that the decision was made without consulting them.

“We didn’t have a say in any of this, and what doesn’t make sense to me is the fact that they said this is a changing situation, but they are not willing to wait and see how things will go in the future,” Haddad said. “Why would you make decisions for five months from now, when you don’t even know what’s going to happen next month?”

The NU-Q administration held a meeting on July 28 to address concerns from the class of 2022, but some students said the meeting left them with unanswered questions.

“Throughout the meeting, each faculty member was empathizing with us, but not really getting to the crux of the matter,” said Yanet Chernet, a journalism junior. “Not many solutions were offered to compensate for the cancellation of face-to-face JR and Comm Exchange.”

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