Missing students prompt federal investigation

State Department tight lipped

By Lindsey Stokes
Staff Writer

NEW YORK CITY—Federal and local officials continue to search for two African students who disappeared during a Broadway show during the final days of a summer leadership conference hosted by Simmons College.

The two students were part of the U.S. Department of State-funded Study of the U.S. Institute, more commonly known as Women Changing the Face of Leadership (WCFL) program.

The program brought 19 women from six African countries to study U.S. history, government, and society, as well as global women’s leadership, with Simmons faculty and students in July and August.

The women, all undergraduates, were from Cote D’ Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan. The two missing students are from Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The five-week program concluded with a cultural trip to New York City that included attending a Broadway play. While attending the show, the two women excused themselves to use the restroom and never came back.

Authorities from numerous agencies, including the U.S. Department of State, as well as New York and Boston police departments, are still seeking information related to their disappearance. State Department officials, however, have declined comment on the situation.

Nancy Dimauro, administrative director of WCFL for the second year in a row, also declined comment, as did two Simmons faculty members, Patricia Elam, associate director at the Center for Excellence in Teaching at Simmons, and Professor Janie Ward, chair of the Education Department, who both served as mentors during the program.

All said the State Department had requested they not comment about the matter.

Elam and Ward did confirm, however, that State Department officials have remained in close contact with Simmons College administrators as the search for the students continues. Dimauro stressed that most everyone involved had been eager to return home, as it was “difficult being away from their families and culture.”

It is unclear what prompted the two women to vanish.

Sierra Leone and Liberia, the home countries of the two missing students, both have tumultuous political histories, widespread poverty, and, according to the United Nations, high rates of gender-based violence. They are also currently at the center of the worst Ebola outbreak in modern history.

On Friday the government of Sierra Leone initiated a three-day, countrywide lock-down, during which 6 million people were asked to stay home to combat the rampant spread of Ebola.

A recent ABC News story featured on abcnews.com noted as many as 6,000 foreign nationals with student visas are currently missing in the United States.

Once a student receives their visa, it is up to the school to keep track of them. If they repeatedly miss class, the school must then notify the appropriate government official(s).

Though she was “not privy to such information,” Elam, as well as another Simmons faculty mentor, did reveal that representatives from the State Department were in contact with WCFL administrators for the duration of the program.

“It’s a fabulous program,” said Ward. “The women selected are enthusiastic, fun, and incredibly grateful. They bond so well with Simmons students and faculty. Everyone involved walks away thinking it was a fantastic experience.”

All interviewed were eager to mention the sense of community developed over the five weeks