The idea of community has endured throughout the history of the human race, and its value is seen even more in times of crisis. COVID has problematized the concept of community, as it has either been difficult or impossible to socialise and connect with friends and family in person.
COVID has removed students from their communities and dispersed friendship groups across the country and the world. While globalisation has allowed us to maintain some of our relationships remotely, never before have people of our age had to manage their entire community from afar.
However, in many cases, COVID has still brought communities closer together. Although many viewed the 8pm clap for the NHS as tokenism, it was able to connect the nation with its positive sentiment. Amongst young people, the zoom quiz became the vital organ of socialisation, although the round of ‘who said this: Kanye or Trump?’ was too difficult to master. Group calls with over three people easily became white noise as each fuzzy voice overcame the next.
The novelty soon wore off, but the advancement of technology in even the most recent years, undoubtedly aided the maintenance of community among young people. In stark contrast to these online exploits, the sending of letters and postcards also grew as a means to communicate in a somewhat more romantic way, even if they had to be made out of the old craft-cardboard stuck at the back of the cupboard.
But the maintenance of community is not the only task of students in COVID: as freshers moved to university in September, they were faced with the task of building an entirely new community in a new place, often far away from home and old friends. At school, one is thrust into a year group of hundreds of people and despite the overwhelming experience of joining school or sixth form, this process is very effective for building community quickly.
The experience of freshers this year is far more dependent on their accommodation situation: in halls, friends can be made on corridors. Graduate freshers living with friends or partners have the luxury of a pre-made community, but less chance of meeting new people. The community-building experience of first years is always stressful; even very social people can find new social situations draining, and reaching out to new people over the internet rather than in person can be even more anxiety-inducing. It will take more time and lots of trial and error for this year’s cohort to build such community.
Second, third and fourth years have the privilege of an already-formed community, but must adjust their expectations from their previous years of study. Coming back to a university where you used to go out three times a week, play sport every day and sit in the library with a hundred other people to talk to is a difficult undertaking. Now one must book a slot at the pub and library, stay away from friends’ houses, and not even dare to dream of dancing away your stress under the glimmering lights of the local club.
A fourth-year Durham student highlighted the reason why this all feels so difficult for continuing students: “you grow up thinking your early twenties is supposed to be the most exciting, wild time of your life but suddenly now you must learn a lot of responsibility for your country’s health, while your methods of maintaining and enjoying your community have been taken away”.
This is undoubtedly going to affect the mental health of the student body, and ironically highlights the importance of our relationships with friends and family who will keep us intact and upbeat. But building, adjusting and re-formulating community is arguably one of our greatest skills as a species, and whatever might be thrown at us this academic year, there is not much that can be done to stop a student from making friends.
Image: ficio74 via pxhere.com