Tea Time with Tagwa: They’re watching you

Illustration by Sammy Newman

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, they’re watching you.

How many of you have skipped a class in the past few days? I have. I skip class more frequently than I’m willing to admit for reasons far less valid than being “sick.” I never thought it was that deep, I mean, it’s only the classes that don’t take attendance. I’m sure all of you have done the same.

None of us have thought too much about the situation. It’s natural to skip in order to take a break, catch up on work or even to hang out with friends on a Friday afternoon. Well, what if I told you that VCU will now track whether you’re in class?

Some of you may have heard rumors about a new VCU policy that identifies whether a student attends their class or not. Let me put those rumors to rest: I’m here to tell you they’re true. Surprise, VCU has found yet another tactful way to invade your privacy.

VCU is introducing a new program called Ram Attend, which tracks attendance via Wi-Fi connection. Basically, if you’re in class, your electronic device will connect to the Wi-Fi and alert the system that you’re in class. A lack of an alert will notify the system that you’re not in class. The pilot program was launched Nov. 8 and will be tested in UNIV 111, 112 and 200 classes.

This is all in the name of “student success,” according to VCU. Student success my ass. I’m not the first nor the last person to say that attendance doesn’t necessarily reflect success. According to a 2010 study from the University of Albany, mandatory attendance has relatively little to no impact on performance. Some classes don’t need continual turnout for a student to succeed. I’m not out here advocating for all of you to skip class, but let’s be real: I don’t go to every class, and neither do you. However, not all of us are failing classes left and right.

Perhaps I could have believed the nonsense about “student success” if they weren’t being so secretive about this program. I can bet a large sum of students didn’t know — still don’t know — about the implementation of Ram Attend. I mean, how could they? The opt-out form was hidden in just another email. 

The program is “optional” but the default setting is for all students who received the email to be enrolled. It was sent out with the subject: “Important: Your class is piloting a new attendance tool” and an opt-out link. If VCU truly wanted this program to be optional, Ram Attend would have been announced in a more fashionable way catered to students such as an Instagram or Twitter post. We all know most students just scroll past emails from VCU. I know that if the university wanted students to be fully aware of the program, they would have introduced it in a manner much more discoverable and noticeable.

This program is an invasion of privacy. I genuinely can’t say I trust VCU won’t use this program to track our locations on a more consistent basis that has nothing to do with attendance. So excuse me if I choose to pass on the concept that Ram Attend isn’t just a form of VCU’s wildly inappropriate need to constantly surveil their students. And that’s the tea.

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