The Covid-19 Crisis has had a stark impact on university campuses, as the once crowded lecture theaters, dining halls and sports arenas sit empty and millions of students learn from remote locations. Student bodies are often the target of enhanced enforcement too, and they have been under focus for sometimes dodging restrictions, partying in college halls and close contacts been forced into sometimes repeated quarantines.
In this breakout room I wanted to hear from a group of university students themselves about their experience. I was thrilled to speak with Zuriel and Alex, who study in Nottingham and South London, respectively, and in the US, Simon and Sorcha, studying in Ohio and Toronto, respectively. I asked them about their experience in the Spring and Summer, when campuses emptied, high school rites of passage moved online and summer work and travel plans came asunder. We talked about their learning experience, how it has changed, how engagement wanes when live lectures are replaced by faceless black boxes on a screen and how limited on campus experiences can be so meaningful.
I also asked them about the impact that these changes have had on their mental health, and that of their peers, and whether they feel the supports they need are in place. While it was clear that much was lost, it is also apparent that something has been found – space to reflect, time to connect with family, time to focus with fewer distractions. Finally we look to the future, and what they are most looking forward to when restrictions start to lift. Some of these experiences are hard to visualize and hard to imagine, like much of the experience of 2020. The resilience of the students is a credit to them, and I am confident that their path ahead will be richer because of it.