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Amherst study-abroad program folds over rape response

AMHERST — The handling of an alleged rape of a student attending a University of Massachusetts-affiliated program in Costa Rica has led to the demise of an Amherst study abroad program.

Living Routes on North Pleasant Street — which employed six people — is closing its doors after 13 years this week after UMass suspended its relationship over what a vice provost described as a “serious, and potentially life threatening, health/safety issue” involving a student enrolled in its program at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica.

UMass officials say Living Routes failed to notify them about the incident until 20 days after it was first reported.

Interviews with those directly involved say it was the alleged rape of a 20-year-old student in the beach town of Montezuma.

The Living Routes program in Costa Rica is at the Monteverde Institute, an educational institution where other study-abroad programs are run.

The incident led to Monteverde Institute firing two of its program directors who helped the victim, including its academic director who ran the Living Routes program on the ground in Costa Rica.

The action by UMass forced Living Routes to cancel its spring 2014 programs, which affected 28 students from around the country. Without the spring tuition and significant cash reserves, the program’s board decided it had no alternative other than to shut down and dissolve the nonprofit organization, Executive Director Susan Gentile explained in a January newsletter.

Since its founding in 1999, Living Routes has placed 1,485 students all around the country in sustainable community and eco-conscious study abroad programs in countries including Costa Rica, India, Brazil, Israel and Scotland.

Gentile could not be reached for comment Thursday, but in her newsletter, she defended Living Routes’ handling of the incident in Costa Rica and said Living Routes maintained “the highest academic, programmatic and health and safety standards on all of our programs.”

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