BY TIM ALDRED
I will not be telling Westminster College where I plan on going for Thanksgiving break, nor any other break. And neither should you.
I never thought they would be interested in my plans either, but it turns out I was wrong. An email sent by Dean Stephanie Krauth on Nov. 13 told me and the rest of the student body that we needed to inform the school of our “travel plans” during the break. We were reassured that “Your travel plans don’t have to be set in stone, just let us know you approximate departure, arrival, & destination plans.”
No, thank you. Where I go and what I do with my free time while I am on campus entails a certain amount of privacy. I don’t report to anyone and I don’t ask for approval. Off-campus, infinitely more so. Don’t mistake these for innocent questions, either. If somebody asked me where I had been, when I had left, and when I was got back, I’d be wary. If an institution asked me those questions in order to record them, process them, and file them away somewhere, well, I’m starting to feel like I should have my Miranda rights read first.
And what is the purpose of asking these questions? The email doesn’t say, although it’s safe to assume the information will be used somehow. There’s no point in making an unprecedented request like this unless there’s also a plan in place to use the information. However, the only thing the email provides is a little bit of background, which on closer examination proves to be absolutely absurd.
Dean Krauth writes, “Colleges and universities across the country have been thinking and concerned about student travel too, whether it is related to travel abroad, such as the recent outbreak of Ebola, or domestic travel, such as the recent missing student from Wartburg College in Iowa. A lot can happen when one travels, so we’re including a new process as we close for the Thanksgiving holiday.”
First off, the missing Wartburg College student has been found, and was never really missing to begin with. It turns out that if Selamou Ahmed, said student, had registered his travel plans they would have read, “burglarizing vehicles in Chicago.” The reason nobody from Wartburg has heard from him since he left for fall break is because he’s currently in Cook County jail waiting for his court date. So, why is Ahmed, in particular, supposed to be a reason to check-in our travel plans? I’m just speculating, but it turns out that Ahmed actually started his college career here at Westminster College before transferring to Wartburg last September. Maybe we’re operating under the old adage, “goose-of-a-feather flock together.”
As for Ebola, that deserves an entire editorial on its own. First, let me confirm that there are, in fact, billions of dollars currently being spent by world governments to keep Ebola from spreading, and thousands of health and security specialists working to ensure that nobody enters the United States with the virus. And whatever they’re doing it’s working. According to the CDC, there have been a grand total of three confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, and two of those patients were healthcare workers handling the body fluids of one patient in Dallas. They have both recovered. Everyone in contact with that patient has been monitored and they have all been cleared. The last newly reported case of Ebola happened almost a month ago. As of right now, there is no Ebola in the United States, and it’s extremely unlikely there ever will be. So, given all of these indicators, I feel absolutely confident in saying there will never be a case of Ebola at Westminster College, and how ’bout that, we did all that without even knowing who was going to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. Hoorah.
So, after looking closely at the reasons behind this procedure what are we left with? Just a vaguely panicked, vaguely insulting request to students (not faculty, though, which sweetens the paternalism) that we tell the school where we’re going so they can know which jails to check when we don’t come back in time for classes, and who should be quarantined when they get sick.
But that’s not a generous reading. To be fair, I’m sure that despite all the absurdities and dystopian connotations of this procedure, Dean Krauth designed and intended it to help keep students safe. Regardless, I still say no thank you. I don’t need another level of supervision. I, too, am an adult. I, too, feel like my privacy is violated when I have to report where I am going to people I don’t know. I have emergency contacts so that the school doesn’t have to take care of me if I need help. And finally, if I get into a bind over break, rest assured I already have a mommy who will come running. Her name is Gloria.