Deputy Editor, Harriet St Pier, speaks out in defence of mourning the loss of events over the past two years.
"Your university years are some of the best years of your life".
This is something I was told countless times before coming to St Andrews, a phrase that helped to construct an extremely specific image of what life at university would be like. I pictured studying, yes. More often, I imagined the fun; going out, making lifelong friends, belonging to a community, doing (often quite stupid) things that realistically could not exist within any other adult context. When else in my life would I have the chance to wear wellies to a black-tie ball? To participate in a massive drunk scavenger hunt concluded by a foam fight? To run en masse into the North Sea at 5am?
Cut to September 2020: I arrived at St Andrews, at a time when to have a normal fresher's week was both illegal and a public health nightmare. Online socials cannot be described as anything other than excruciatingly painful. It became incredibly difficult to meet anyone beyond those who lived in my DRA building with intermittent lockdowns. As I began to hear the phrase "hopefully you'll be able to do this in your second year" more and more frequently, the pictures of balls that adorn the university's website faded to a distant memory. By January, when I was attending online university from the claustrophobic comfort of my childhood bedroom, even the 601 became something of a mirage.
Of course, this all happened at a time when people the world over were suffering in countless unimaginable ways and making far more significant, impactful, life-changing sacrifices. There was no question that closing the venues that play host to the events that shape these typical university experiences were necessary to protect lives and healthcare systems. There is no doubt that the loss of a regular university experience pales compared to many other losses experienced on account of the pandemic.
However, it would be wrong to invalidate the disheartening experiences of students across the UK. Last year, I did not, in fact, feel as though I was living through the "best years of my life". The university was confusing, frustrating, disappointing, and lonely for many. At the start of 2021, the Office for National Statistics published data that suggested that 63% of students reported a worsening in their mental health and wellbeing since the beginning of the academic year. The loss of everything which comprises a university experience beyond academics was doubtless a significant contributing factor.
The ritual of going out is an integral part of what you come to university for. It cultivates experiences that help you decide what you enjoy and what you don't; meet new people from all over the world; try new things, and figure out what you want to do with your life. Not only does it form part of the prospectus-fuelled expectations of what university life is like, but it also facilitates a process of learning beyond the narrow scope of your degree subject. It provides an opportunity for structure and discipline: I'm a lot more likely to get an essay finished by 7 if I have somewhere to go at 8, whether that's a society pub quiz, a live music event, a charity fashion show, or a rave. In St Andrews specifically, the events scene provides a sense of community. It creates a vibrant student culture that would not exist otherwise and was proven to be irreplicable over zoom.
So much has been lost over the course of the past two years. The cost of the pandemic to student satisfaction has, understandably, not been the priority of world leaders. This was particularly exemplified by the narrative pedalled by the UK government in the autumn of 2020, which used students as a scapegoat for the second wave of Covid. Not being able to go out seems like a trivial thing; however, it is evident with the reintroduction of events this academic year that it has the power to revolutionise the university experiences and thus the livelihoods of many students.
It is now only fourth-year students who have the privilege of saying that they have experienced a full academic year at St Andrews unencumbered by the burdens of a global pandemic. Your university experience is short: it is valid to be mourning its loss.