UW-Madison seeks students’ input with new Coronavirus Student Task Force

MADISON, Wis. — From a new app to bluetooth-linked contact tracing, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is working on new Covid-19 measures — thanks in large part to it students.

The university formed a Coronavirus Student Task Force in November, made up of 12 students from all grade levels.

“I think it was a win-win for everybody,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Lori Reesor said. “For the students to have access, visibility, to get more diverse points of view, and then to make sure that process is transparent to the student body.”

The task force was formed partly in response to backlash from students over how the school handled the pandemic during the fall semester.

“Once the semester started, there was some confusion, or maybe frustration ,that students weren’t sure how to access and to provide feedback and input,” Dr. Reesor said.

Student-leaders from the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the school’s student governance body, suggested creating a formalized group to serve as a direct line of communication between students and university leadership.

“I think a key basis for a lot of the complaints was that there was no standard,” ASM Outreach Director Emma Cline said. “There was no direct line of communication of exactly what students are expected to do. I think the committee is a really good response to that.”

Students were selected for the task force by an application process. Several positions on the committee were held for people that represented different student groups — such as first-year students, international students and house fellows.

“We have a very diverse group,” ASM Vice Chair Aerin Leigh Lammers said. “I’m very grateful for the immense amount of perspectives that are being provided in this group.”

The group meets weekly to provide feedback on the university’s plans and ideas on how to best implement those plans.

“It’s really important that we get students to be able to talk about their personal preferences and their importance of well-being and academic success and safety,” Cline said. “Having the student voice is really important.”

The focus of the group so far, according to Lammers, has been developing a new testing plan for students as well as a coronavirus mobile application.

“There’s gonna be an introduction of an app that everybody is supposed to use that’s going to keep track of whether you tested negative or positive,” Lammers said. “That will allow you to get into the different facilities on campus.”

The app is modeled off of one pioneered by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Similarly to Illinois, UW-Madison plans to implement a regular testing requirement for on-campus students.

“We wanna make sure that students feel like they can be safe on campus,” Lammers said.

The university is also working on a potential bluetooth-linked contact tracing program that student could choose to opt-in to. The program would send students an alert if they had recently come in contact with someone who tested positive.

The task force will be a crucial part of the success of the university’s future plans, according to school administrators.

“In order to really address and take care of the public health issues, we need students’ support,” Dr. Reesor said. “We need their leadership, we need their input, we need them to be safe. Not only for their own well-being and their own safety but for the greater community.”

The university is also consulting with a similar student group for graduate students, according to Dr. Reesor.