OPINION – The demonisation of university students

OPINION – The demonisation of university students

“Don’t kill your nan by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.”

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary

I’m not surprised the United Kingdom is preparing to go into its second lockdown tomorrow. But I’m confused as to why university students are being forced to attend their lectures in-person, especially since students are being constantly blamed for spreading the virus.

It’s fair enough to say that not all students are obeying the rules. We’ve all seen the house-parties on snapchat, freshers posting photos on Instagram with 15 other people and the endless tweets of students saying they caught coronavirus at their local pub.

This behaviour is inexcusable, but the majority of students are feeling the same way.

Not all students

The rates in England are the highest amongst those aged between 17 and 24, with many students being forced to self-isolate as someone they hardly know in the room next to them decided to go for a pint. But blaming the thousands of students for the non-compliance of a few is creating a big problem.

The majority of students are obeying the rules to the letter. You will rarely see a young person under the age of 30 incorrectly positioning their mask around their nose and mouth, yet for older people it seems like the most difficult task. Us young people simply ask why the older generation aren’t being held accountable for their actions whilst the students flouting the rules are in the minority.

Realistically, what did the powers expect to happen? Sending young people all over the country into small, confined living areas with other students they don’t know and expecting it to not spread. At the very least, why aren’t watchdogs holding the Government to account for not allowing all university lectures and seminars to be online?

An easy target

To put it simply, young people are an easy target for British media and Government officials to paint as the perpetrators of rising coronavirus transmissions. This is not true. The coronavirus rates were already well on the rise before students returned to university, especially since most students had their course starting a month later than usual.

We, the students, feel that we have been let down by our leaders. We have been encouraged to return to university cities, mix with people we don’t know in the middle of a pandemic, lured in with the promised safety of face-to-face lectures, then criticized when we attend.

Students aren’t blameless, but we aren’t blameworthy above all other groups, either. We have been demonised by the media for abiding by the rules and regulations of our Conservative Government alongside the rest of the population, but we receive the most criticism.

It’s safe to say Boris Johnson hasn’t witnessed a 60-year-old man stand directly behind coughing in the queue at Boots with the mask hanging off the bottom of his chin.

The reality

Eight university students have died since the beginning of term one, meaning at least one student has died every single week since the start of university.

Each life lost has been reported by police as being “unrelated to COVID”, yet each death has not been treated as suspicious.

The surge of new cases has forced students to self-isolate en masse, including the majority of freshers who have never been away from home and suddenly find themselves sitting on a hard mattress whilst surrounded by infected students.

Only a week ago had the National Union of Students issued a mental health warning with the call for urgent action to be taken over student suicides. My question to this is: we all knew mental health issues were on the rise through the first lockdown. So why was forcing young people to live in a room with prison cell walls and surrounded by strange unknown people not combined with extra support in mental health services?

How many more names of students are we going to hear about before our media and Government retract the accusation of students being to blame and provide proper help?

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774

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You matter.

Michael Hazle

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