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Albion College students have mixed feelings about app that tracks their location

College president says new app only tells school officials if students have left campus and if they've test positive for COVID-19
Posted at 8:36 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 20:42:48-04

ALBION, Mich. — Before students moved into their dorms or apartments on campus at Albion College this year, they first drove through the parking lot near an administration building to get their temperatures checked, receive an Albion Britons mask and get tested for COVID-19.

They were also instructed to download the Aura app and some students said they’re having mixed feelings about it.

“Some people don’t really care because they’re not going to be leaving campus. Some do because they want to go and do stuff and I don’t blame them necessarily,” said freshman Cameron Mead. “This whole year has been crazy in general.”

Back in mid-March when the shutdown began in Michigan due to the coronavirus, Albion College like many other state colleges and universities closed.

Now, with classes beginning soon for the fall 2020 semester, students are being asked to download the Aura app that allows the student and school officials to track their health and movements, said college president Matthew Johnson.

“It also allows for them to register each morning their health conditions if they have any symptoms of COVID. So that allows us to track across the population any symptoms,” Johnson said during an interview with FOX 17. “It also records their location much the way that an app on your phone would record your running route through town or your number of steps during the day.”

Johnson added that school officials will also be giving students a map of places they’ve checked out in the Albion area that are practicing safety measures similar to theirs. The app will tell them when students go outside of those boundaries.

“It won’t tell us where they’ve gone once they’ve left campus. That’s a level of detail that we’re not asking for. It’s only telling us that they’ve left campus,” Johnson said. “They could choose to ask for permission to leave campus in which case we would have a conversation ahead of time. If they don’t choose to have that conversation with us ahead of time, this tell us they’ve left so we can have the conversation when they come back.”

The app also tells officials immediately when a student tests positive for COVID, he said.

School officials will be able to do some contact-tracing, ‘quickly and efficiently' to protect the students and faculty on campus, he said.

However, it’s the location component that has a few students worried.

“I don’t really need my college knowing everywhere I go,” said freshman Paul Volesky. “I am planning to stay on campus. I don’t plan on going anywhere but I do like how you can track your symptoms and you can see if your results are positive or negative.”

Volesky said it’s also up to the students to be considerate and wise about what they do off-campus so they don't contract the virus.

His roommate Madden Brady feels the app is ‘a good thing overall.’

“I think it was intended to help the student populous so that way we can know which areas have been affected,” Brady said. “It doesn’t really bother me because I don’t leave campus because I don’t have a car.”

However for those who are on campus, they must have the app, Johnson said. If they don’t, or if they turn it off, they will not be suspended. However officials will meet with them.

“Our first response always is going to be education,” Johnson said. “Now if a student decides to continuously violate our policies and protocols, they would be referred to our students judicial system. And it’s unlikely they would get to a suspension level unless it was an egregious violation.”

Johnson said other safety measures have been implemented, which included installing automatic doors. They also made sure all seats in 100 classrooms were the standard six-feet apart.

Since Albion College is a small liberal arts institution, they were able to implement the changes easily, he said.

Ultimately he wants the students to know that it’s all about safety, he said.

“Being tracked is not my favorite thing but I’d rather be here and have in-person learning than something like Michigan State University, like University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where there’s big outbreaks and it’s hard to control and [students] are getting sent home right away,” said junior John Hoesli. “I like what they’re trying to do with it. I don’t know if that’s the best way but I mean it’s a tough time right now for everyone.”