In an unsurprising yet disappointing move, Durham University announced this week that its exams for the 2021/22 period will remain online. Edinburgh will not be far behind: in an email to students from Colm Harmon in late October, prospects for further opening this year were made out as overwhelmingly bleak. Yet again, the narrative of “community protection” is being touted as an explanation. While I understand that universities want to appear concerned about the still-relevant pandemic, I find their repeated insistence on unnecessary hesitance to be utterly transparent.
Having joined Edinburgh last September, I faced a first-year experience in which I visited George Square a grand total of zero times for academic purposes. Whenever I did walk by, seeing the tumbleweed-worthy ghost town it had become was possibly the starkest possible reminder of how much I was missing out on. I wasn’t so much going to university as I was watching lectures from my bed—there were some days that I didn’t even find an excuse to leave my flat. In most cases, though, I at least understood why things had to be this way: after all, we were in the depths of a global pandemic, and jeopardising others’ safety was the least of my priorities.
Having returned this year to a world of vaccinations, re-openings, and a safe-ish, semi-normal life has certainly been much less depressing: studying in the Main Library and seeing our brutalist, concreted oblong of a campus at least slightly inhabited again makes me feel almost like a real student. But though the situation has come forward in leaps and bounds since a year ago, I have two more in-person activities per week to show for it—if I’m honest, that doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough.
I play for the American Football team here: one of our main sponsors is the famed WhyNot nightclub, which we visit every Wednesday. Along with about eight other sports societies and hordes of others, we make a total of some six hundred hungry hedonists. Flashing our vaccine passports, we pay for entry to spend the night drinking, dancing and otherwise breaking social distancing guidelines until about three in the morning. These activities all happen with the University’s and the law’s blessing —nightclub-society sponsors are even encouraged by the SU. My point is this: if even one Covid-positive person were to head to WhyNot (or any other of Edinburgh’s countless clubs and pubs) that night, they would be in prime position to go on a super-spreading rampage. Now I am no virologist, but I can guarantee that if 600 fully-vaccinated students (far more than most courses here actually have enrolled) were to head into a distanced lecture (or exam) hall wearing masks, the risk would be nothing like that of a packed nightclub on a busy evening. The story is similar at Durham and across the country. There is absolutely no logical reason for universities to allow us to go clubbing while forcing us to watch lectures on a screen.
As for who is to blame for this abhorrent double standard—whether it be complaining lecturers, lazy universities, hypocritical governments —it is hard to tell. But what is clear is that students are still being disproportionately hurt by the impacts of inconsistent pandemic guidelines. We need to ask more questions of those who claim to represent us; I, for one, will be taking the next round of excuses they offer with a heavy dose of salt.
Image via Pixabay