By Gregory Orwell
Students all across campus looked to the sky on March 20 to see a white floating device that resembled a UFO. Initial beliefs amongst students was that the campus was being attacked by aliens.
“I definitely thought it was aliens,” secretary of the Conspiracy Theorists Club freshman Julia Swift said. “But after having a club meeting, we realized it wasn’t aliens. It was a spy.”
Swift compared the floating device seen flying over Washington College’s campus to the Chinese spy balloon that was recently shot down by a United States fighter jet.
According to CBS News, “China’s surveillance balloon entered U.S. airspace near Alaska before transiting over Canada and then the continental U.S.” on Jan. 28. It then moved towards the east coast, and was finally shot down near South Carolina on Feb. 4.
“It seems whoever designed it was inspired by the Chinese spy balloon,” associate professor of political science Dr. Alexander Charrington said.
According to Charrington, who spent two class periods discussing the spy balloon and the ethics of monitoring another country, WC’s version of the spy balloon is able to record video and audio.
“Unlike the Chinese spy balloon, the College’s device is very close to buildings and, therefore, students,” Charrington said. “It seems the goal is definitely to monitor the campus in some way.”
Thanks to the warm weather, Charrington was able to take a class of students to Martha Washington Square on March 21. For an hour and fifteen minutes, the class sat directly under the spy balloon and examined its components.
According to Charrington, the inside of the balloon was easy to see from the ground, and he determined that there was a motor inside the device, along with multiple cameras and audio recording equipment.
Although it shares many aspects with the Chinese device, WC’s version of the spy balloon has yet to be shot down. While some members of the community like Charrington took the opportunity to observe the device, other students are annoyed with its presence.
“I have a class in the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts,” Swift said. “How am I supposed to get to class with that thing watching me?”
Other club members are worried about what the spy balloon means for the future of the College.
“[The College] is becoming too controlling,” president of the Conspiracy Theorists senior Winston Smith said. “There’s no need for them to monitor students like this. It sounds like a Big Brother situation. He’s always watching.”
Many students criticized the appearance of the spy balloon, especially considering the administration has yet to comment on it. However, assistant director of admissions Emmanuel O’Brien was willing to discuss the spy balloon’s presence on campus.
“We’ve heard students’ concerns, and since we’re working on transparency, I want to make sure everyone understands the device’s purpose,” O’Brien said. “This new device was created by our IT department with the hopes of viewing the campus from a student perspective, so the administration can see what needs to be improved on campus.”
Members of the IT department, who created the device when the campus’ Wi-Fi network was down over spring break, according to O’Brien, denied requests for comments.
O’Brien hopes to deliver the device’s video footage to members of administration within the next week.
“I can’t wait to see what the administration thinks. I’ve already snuck a peek at the footage,” O’Brien said with a grin. “It’s clear that the brick sidewalks are a problem, as five students have already tripped in the past two days.”
Despite students’ discomfort, O’Brien is confident the footage will help improve the campus in the long run, with the hopes of increasing the number of admitted students. While the spy balloon may show the administration the campus’ flaws, some students wonder if there was not a better alternative.
“When we were trying to get the Conspiracy Theorists approved as an active club, the Student Government Association was very helpful,” Smith said. “I don’t understand why the administration couldn’t have spoken with the SGA to hear about issues on campus.”
It is clear that the spy balloon floating over Martha Washington Square sparked many discussions on campus. O’Brien’s meeting with administration is set to take place on April 1, but will not be open to students.
“The plan is to watch the footage and then decide which steps to take next,” O’Brien said. “But I can already see how helpful this device was in determining what needs to be fixed on campus.”
Although the spy balloon’s presence may make some students uncomfortable, the device will improve the College in the long-run. Members of administration are able to see the campus through the eyes of a student and pinpoint areas of concern.
A little invasion of privacy never hurt anyone, right?
Photo by Syme Parsons.
Photo Caption:A spy balloon by the Casey Academic Center is monitoring students, and is equipped with cameras and audio recording devices.