Universities Have Been Left in the Dark… and I’m Scared

2020 has not been a kind year to any industry, or any individual – there’s no doubt about that.

As office workers were encouraged to work from home, and then return back to the office, and then work from home again, no one really knows what advice to follow. Aside from work, the one aspect of life that has significantly changed for millions is education.

Schools were quick to shut in March, with all exams cancelled for this summer. However, unlike school students, university students were forced to rely on university officials with the lack of guidance for university institutions from the government. Each university was handling the ongoing pandemic differently in February/March. It feels just like yesterday that I was walking across campus in March, seeing but not taking too much notice of the few posters dotted around warning about those who had recently travelled back from Wuhan.

When campuses shut across the country in March, it was unfamiliar territory. Sure, it was worrying, but it felt like the right thing to do, with (pretty much) everybody understanding the brutality of COVID-19. However, this is no longer the case.

Over six months since universities shut their campuses and facilities, there is still no clear guidance available for staff or students, and no clear end to this confusion.

As university campuses have begun to open, not enough attention is being given to the students in this situation. News stories across quite a few cities are showing freshers locked in halls, which have sparked outrage from Karens saying there’s nothing to complain about. After all, they made the decision to go to university – no one forced them. Didn’t they know this would happen?

Well, the answer is no. Of course, no one was telling these students that they must go to university this year. But why should they hold off their future plans because our current government is incapable of providing plans for students when it comes to mental and physical wellbeing? Rather than anger being directed at the students who are (rightfully) complaining about their status in lockdown, anger should be instead directed towards Gavin Williamson and the rest of his circus group.

Students deserve to be protected. Yes, there are always going to be people who break the rules. But it’s often the same people who complain about freshers having parties that wear their masks around their chin or over their mouths in supermarkets – aren’t you just as bad?

Also, just because some freshers break the rules does not mean that they are all like that. Obviously, the only stories to make mainstream news will be ones of big house parties as that’s what rallies up the viewers at BBC News. Why would a central news station cover the stories of the thousands of students sat in fear in their bedrooms, confined simply to their single beds, desk and chair? That would not provide the public with sufficient reason to put the full blame on students.

Instead of complaining about students breaking the rules, try to put yourselves in their shoes. Applications to university often start a full year before the students even attend, and no one could’ve predicted this pandemic a year ago. Whisked away to another city, away from family and friends for likely the first time ever, they are being asked to stay in, which is something many middle-aged individuals could not even do in their three-bed houses in March and April.

As well as blaming students, there’s been much contradictory discourse on their mental health. A lot of focus is being put on the fact that face-to-face learning being available is vital to a student’s mental health. But where’s this same mental health attention when it comes to suggesting that they can’t come home to visit families over Christmas? Where’s the mental health support when you’re forcing millions back into shared halls, student houses and campuses, for those who have been following the rules for the past six months? How can you expect us to sit in a room with strangers, when we can’t even meet with more than five friends?

It’s time university students were treated like adults. Instead of forcing us back, provide students with opportunities of completing their course fully online. Instead of complaining about their lack of obedience when it comes to the rules, create spaces where they won’t feel the need to break the rules. Instead of ridiculing and patronising them, remind yourself that you were their age once – how would you feel?

This is a call for university students to stick together, support each other and put your physical and mental health first. Why are we being asked to return to university just as workplaces are being encouraged to let their staff work from home?

Photo courtesy of Alex Bierwagen

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