Published on 24th September 2020 at 16:52.
We would like to respond to the University’s message this week from Professor Kelly Coate, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, which highlighted the potential consequences of students going against Covid-19 regulations. The email, also released as a news item on the University's Student Hub, stressed the fact that students who break the law (for example by having more than six students in their kitchen or gathering elsewhere) are not protected from the repercussions of this.
We want to indicate our sympathy and solidarity with students at this time. You’ve really been messed around. The government has utterly mismanaged its coronavirus response, first failing to put a functioning test and trace system in place, then sending mixed messages about whether or not we should be resuming life as normal, and now introducing limits on personal freedom in an attempt to make up for their earlier mistakes, which have seen a rise in cases. It really sucks and we totally understand your desire to have as close to a normal uni experience as possible, especially since this is what everyone has been promising you all summer.
The new lockdown restrictions, which make it illegal for groups of larger than six to meet at a time, are really difficult when you’re just trying to meet new people - and online-only can be tough, too. We’re putting together some suggestions for activities you can try out depending on how you’re feeling about Covid-19, whether or not you need to spend more or less time isolating, and what to do if you need support in each of those cases. We know people are different and some of you will want to see each other and hang out, so check these out for suggestions of how to do that without getting in trouble with the long arm of the prison-industrial complex.
Because, although we understand, and although we’re just as sick of being mismanaged as you are, we’re also hearing a lot of stories from around the country of Unis which have already opened where students are facing punitive both from their universities and police. Some of you will have seen the situation unfolding in Scotland, where students went back to campuses a week before us: already, 172 students have tested positive for Covid-19 at Glasgow University and more than 600 are said to be isolating. Some students at Glasgow, where teaching is all-online in Semester One, are angry that the University brought them back to live in halls for financial reasons, where they would be away from friends and family, without proper planning for social and other activities in the context of Covid-19. Some of these students are calling for a rent strike in solidarity with those affected by the outbreak, until the University works out how to reimburse them for their ‘negligence’.
As it stands, students could face consequences ranging from Police fines to being kicked out of your accommodation (see example) if you don’t stick to the rules. On the back of that you could also potentially face a disciplinary which could end in being kicked off your course. We’ll be working hard to stop this, because we don’t think it’s fair that students are blamed for the situation we find ourselves in. Matt Hancock has already said that he will not rule out stopping students from returning home from University for Christmas. We think that, in the context of Covid-19, we have to come together as a community to support each other through a potentially extremely stressful time. Students should be allowed to leave if they need to, as keeping them here against their will is unjust. We will be calling for students to be released from their contracts if they want to leave for any reason.
We support the University’s community pledge, we encourage you to sign it and we agree that we all now need ‘to support each other, by behaving with mutual respect and care’. Please do report any symptoms, through the NHS app and through the universities own system. Look after each other, look after your housemates, follow the guidance and get in touch with the Students’ Union for support or advice.
However, we also believe that this pledge should apply equally to the University. We should not be cultivating a punitive, disciplinarian approach to this crisis. The University’s decision to introduce body cams for security staff from Saturday is a heavy-handed approach to security, which we strongly doubt will help to keep anyone safe. Bodycams contribute towards a surveillance culture on campus - one that we know hits racially marginalised groups hardest. We have serious concerns about how this technology will expose students to facial recognition software and could be handed over to the police if required by the courts.
At a time when scientific advice tells us that we need to build trust and encourage openness about symptoms and contacts, we are worried that the University's approach could discourage reporting of symptoms.
We cannot legislate, prosecute, fine, or even argue against the spread of this virus. We need to work together. We need to trust each other. We need to feel safe and supported to declare symptoms, to be honest about whether or not we were at a party (even if there were more than six people there) so that we can track and trace properly. This is the only way we’re going to be able to stop an outbreak. So we encourage everyone to download the new NHS track and trace app and report symptoms, and try and isolate if you have them. Get in touch with any of us if you’re having trouble with any of this, for a non-judgemental space to chat.
As your union, we’re concerned about all our students on and off campus and we’re keen to make sure you can socialise with other students in a safe way. Have a look at our website where we list a range of activities for you that are Covid safe.
* As an example, the University has changed the rules around your tenancy. The new rules state that “you must follow government guidance and any reasonable requests by the University in relation to public health” (Section 2.9.4.). As a consequence it states that the university “may terminate this Agreement without giving you any notice of our intention to do so” (Section 5.2.3.).