‘Worst fears’: What 5 college leaders are saying about Russia’s attacks on Ukraine

One Vermont student decides to forego her study abroad trip, opting to remain in Ukraine with her family.

A student from Bennington College who was supposed to be in a study abroad program in Germany has decided to stay with her family in western Ukraine as the war escalates and the Russian military continues its advancement and atrocities on citizens there.

The story of Diana Chipak was chronicled in the Bennington Banner recently as she openly spoke about the fears and tension she and others are facing during the brutal, unprovoked invasion. Her bravery and the unfolding situation prompted the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges to draft its own letter denouncing the aggression.

We instill in our students and adhere to democratic ideals, national sovereignty, truth – not lies – and respect for human dignity and life. The actions of the Russian Government led by Vladimir Putin is an assault on these values,” college leaders led by Bennington President Laura Walker wrote. “The strength and resiliency of the Ukrainians is an inspiration to people across the globe. We stand united with the people of Ukraine and the importance of democracy.”

They also forwarded this message from Chipak, who has actively been posting photos on Instagram: “Freedom, safety, and democracy are very sacred. Here on the ground we are making our best to fight for it, and we need your support from wherever you are to help us get there.”

Over the past week, hundreds of institution leaders and organizations have issued their own responses to the developing conflict, some calling out Putin and most calling on their campus community to stand in solidarity with Ukraine, its citizens, and even the Russian people who may not believe in their nation’s mission.

James Smith, President of Eastern Michigan State University, referenced that in a letter to his students, staff, alumni and faculty: “Our worst fears have been realized. For our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who have Ukrainian heritage, some who may have families caught in this desperate situation, we stand with you. We support you. Please be kind to any of our community members from Russia or with Russian heritage. They did not cause this situation.”

Just a few miles away, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman discussed the move by the U.S. government to allow Ukrainian students temporary protective status but also opened with strong words about the war. “Each new report from Ukraine intensifies the horror we are experiencing … I condemn this invasion and the ruthless attack on freedom. The grief, anger and hurt are devastating, and I feel such sorrow for the many members of our community whose loved ones and communities are in harm’s way.”

More from UB: How is the Russia-Ukraine war impacting international student exchange?

President Lee Bollinger announced Columbia University would “expand the initiative we put in place for students and scholars displaced by the crisis in Afghanistan to include those seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine. We are eager to welcome these students and scholars to our campuses.” That statement came just days after his strong condemnation of the Russian attack:

“Having been born in the shadow of the Second World War, having been educated, including at Columbia, in an era when totalitarianism and its evils were a principal subject of analysis and rejection, and having chosen a field in which intolerance is a defining characteristic always to be combatted, I cannot help but feel the intimations of the horrific human tragedy in the naked aggression we are witness to today against the country of Ukraine and its people. My thoughts are with them and with all who will suffer from these assaults.”

Even those institutions that try to avoid taking positions on global crises have weighed in on a situation that has seen Russians executing civilians and children and where more than two million Ukrainians have fled their homeland.

“While the University typically does not comment on international conflict, the wholesale invasion of a peaceful country of 40 million people demands a response,” said Richard Lifton, president of The Rockefeller University in New York. “We condemn the unprovoked and unlawful invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces and the appalling targeting and killing of civilians, along with wanton destruction of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. The brutality of this attack shocks the conscience of people everywhere. We stand with Ukraine, in awe of the bravery of their resistance, and with Russians who are protesting this invasion at personal risk.”

In their letters, many presidents are both assuring students of their personal safety as well as offering them resources where they can donate to the Ukraine cause and what they can do during the conflict. One of them, Smith said, is to heed the advice of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich), who urged them to “share reputable news from trusted news sources. There is a lot of disinformation, propaganda, and bots flooding the news cycle. We must all be diligent to check sources and share only factual information.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

Most Popular