The day begins at 8am. There is the daily routine: eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed. You find yourself in a rhythm of semi-normality before sitting at your desk for the rest of the day. Back pain ensues, even though you’re only twenty, and there is nowhere else to go outside the four walls of the flat that you definitely pay too much for. When it’s time for lunch, you walk to the kitchen, leaving the dishes for when your day’s work is done. This is the way it’s been since week one, and it’s the way it will continue until week eleven.
The perpetual stream of tabloid horror stories about life in student halls – teatime in exam conditions, the realisation that Big Brother Is Watching You – reminds you that you have it better. Instead of watching the year go by through the half-blurred perspective of the iron gates standing between you and the fresher’s experience, you are in the comfort of your own flat, surrounded by more freedom than first-year-you could have hoped for.
There has recently been a steady rise in the number of Coronavirus cases amongst students in their later years at university, and the headlines have forgotten about this majority. If this demographic catches the virus, there is no RA team to turn to, and isolation as a self-sufficient student could be torture. What about those living in private accommodation – autonomous yet dependent – unable to access the same level of support available at halls of residence? Have they been excluded from Nicola’s heartfelt sympathies?
Let’s start from the beginning. After all, it’s not like you’ve done isolation before.
The day begins at 8am. The usual follows (eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed), although today you feel worse than yesterday. It’s almost exciting – a sharp stab in the cyclical way you have lived since March – but only your flatmates are there to get you through it, you can’t go home now. You convince each other the next ten-or-so days is just one big sleepover, which you spend wallowing in self-pity and Lemsip. You’re only experiencing mild symptoms so there’s no excuse, all of your classes are online. There’s a tutorial on Zoom in an hour – that’s if your internet doesn’t crash – and you’ve got access to all the lecture slides (that’s if Learn doesn’t crash). It is only when faced with the Error 404 page that it dawns on you: how heavily we rely on such technologies, how utterly powerless we are to their temperance. One day, will you laugh about it?
This wasn’t the experience you were promised, when you were encouraged to flock back to Edinburgh to pay rent. Now you have the virus – of course, it’s your own fault – and the only help you can get is one welfare check-up (or possibly two, if you’re lucky), and a list of links to online food shopping.
So, what’s the solution?
We need a student-led response; we all understand the burden of collective blame, and the difficulties that come with isolating as a student. And there are so many ways to go about this – we could establish a volunteer helpline run by students to listen to those struggling with isolation, or we could help with delivering food and other necessary supplies. But there’s only so much we can do, in our limited positions of power.
Ultimately, we need mass testing to be available on-campus. This doesn’t mean enforcing testing, as this risks the same Orwellian state-of-mind as seen in halls, contradicting the core values the Scottish Parliament has lined itself up with. Without this, students are helpless – trapped in hospitality jobs, holding up the economy, and posing a greater risk to the rest of the community because the university has once again failed to give their students the support they desperately need.
Graphic via Creative Commons