With the recent return of the new school year, both freshers and older students have now made the climb up to university, what would have been excitedly marked by the humming of campus life, and melting recollections of autumnal celebrations, at least under other circumstances. But with the growing numbers of Coronavirus cases and mental health crises, what has student life really been like from their perspective? 

Mia Clark, a local resident in West London, was recently confirmed a place at York University to study History, and has since been living there for the past few weeks. She hasn’t yet, however, partied witness to the ‘tweenage’ dream we all have of university life away from home. “There’s been ups and downs. I’ve been here for almost a month, and it’s been great meeting new people and starting my course.” However, she adds: “I was diagnosed with Coronavirus a few days ago, along with most other people in my block - there’s been lots of disputes within my flat as to how things should be while we isolate.”

Mia, thankfully, has not been hit by life-threatening symptoms, although she does note how the virus takes a toll not initially expected; “My first night experiencing it was hell. I couldn’t sleep. My lower back felt like it was getting hacked at with an axe.” Perhaps the influx of Covid numbers within universities - for example, “in Sheffield, (with) an infection rate of 2,028 per 100,000 population, seven times higher than the city council area as a whole” (McIntyre et al., The Guardian) - are as a result of broken social distancing rules, but many have voiced disappointment with the government handling of the student body, especially on social media. How are they supposed to bear the blame of rising R-numbers when they were the ones told to be sent back to university, to eat in, to churn money back into the economy?

And it’s not just growing Covid rates that’s affecting the student life; I ask Mia how she feels her peers are coping with their mental healths. “You’ve all been stuck together with a group of people you don’t know - with that can come many opposing feelings. Personally, I always wanted to go to a university far away from anyone who went to my secondary school, so I’m not dealing with a lot of homesickness, but friends I know all over the country have been a bit daunted by the unknown. Are we going to be allowed to go home for Christmas? When can I get back to my in-person seminars? Do I need to take notes for this person who’s missing today because they’re sick in bed? 

“You get this feeling that even though everyone’s going through the same thing, you’re still really lonely, because you’re just stuck in your room.” She adds, “In the first week, a few people at my boyfriend’s university died. There’s just so much stuff to deal with nowadays, it feels like an information overload.”

So what have people been doing to combat any feelings of newfound isolation or depression? The answer: not a lot. “Team sports were open at the beginning of term, but now that York’s been hit quite badly, everything is really limited. From my university itself, when I got a positive test, I got sent an email with links and contact details of people I could talk to. The food’s not that bad either.” At least Mia, amongst the chaos, can see the funny side of things. “Actually, in the first provisional care package they send you when you have to isolate, you get so many condoms. It was mad.” 

As the half term melts away, it’s clear that Mia’s future reminiscing of her university days will certainly be a unique tale to tell any grandchildren, regardless of her current circumstances.

(McIntyre N. et al., The Guardian, UK, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/oct/12/fears-grow-student-covid-infections-england-wales-will-spread-into-local-communities (online). (Accessed 20/10/20)