*written before the latest government announcement*
I am sure that anyone reading this will have already been bombarded with statistics and horror stories about students in halls – everything from being forced to eat cold suppers day after day and being barred from any form of human contact or communication. So, I will do my best not to devalue some of the quite horrific situations in which isolating students have found themselves (the TAB has some very interesting personal stories I recommend looking at). I would firstly like to acknowledge that, of course, we are in the midst of a global pandemic and one cannot simply expect to act as though everything is normal and rules such as mask wearing and contact tracing do not apply to them. However, the detrimental effects from denying young people the chance to see friends and learn in person, whilst also heaping the blame onto students in the media, cannot be understated.
As a third year, I am relatively lucky in the sense that I have already had a chance to make friends in freshers, decide who to live with and (in theory) get into a routine with university work and deadlines. This is decidedly not the case for freshers who must see campus as a restrictive, somewhat lonely place where eating/drinking/talking/taking your mask off and pretty much anything else is monitored. I was in a catered block in first year and found the dining room a great place to socialise and meet new people, but catering now resembles an exam hall with loads of individual tables or food seemingly being delivered intermittently to isolating students like army rations. In a climate of increasing mental health issues for young people, these harsh restrictions cannot have come at a worse time and, although the university have provided access to wellbeing services, there are some suggesting long waiting times due to the volume of need.
I fully appreciate the difficulties faced by the university in terms of uncertainty and continually changing government guidelines, but the argument: “why should we pay full price if we are not receiving the level of education that we were promised?” seems very hard to refute. I am not sure about other subjects, but in English we have two contact hours a week, almost all of which take part on zoom, compared to four hours of in-person seminars in previous years. This will hugely add to final year stress about keeping up with work and deadlines not to mention worrying about future careers and applying to internships. It appears for both university administrators and attendees, lockdown has posed challenges to deliver and receive education.
In terms of ‘the university experience’, we can comprehensively say that it has been ruined by coronavirus, but the issues run much deeper than not being able to do x amount of sambuca shots at Fever (however exciting that may be). I cannot imagine what it must be like to arrive in a new city, knowing very few if any people, and then being told to self-isolate in a room for 14 days only leaving to collect food supplies. With the national and local number of cases rising significantly, hopefully the government and university will take into account the difficulties faced by students across the country and not simply demand the harshest lockdown measures unnecessarily.
The issue should not be how to enforce campus-wide student isolation but instead how to protect the education and mental wellbeing of the students who are isolating.
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