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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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Meet the Interns - Part III

(2 July 2020)

Lauren Naughton and Francoise Labode

In May, Francoise Labode and Lauren Naughton, two student interns in our Student Wellbeing & Community Engagement Team, wrote a blog post about coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and planning to recruit our new Student Community Wardens. In their second blog post, they reflect on the pandemic, considering the changes to the Durham community and student experience. 

A changed community

What changes have you noticed in your community as a result of Covid-19? Have you seen new customs and rules in public?

We might be moving around more cautiously now, careful not to come into contact with others. We might space ourselves out differently, with more physical barriers between us than before.

Outdoors in Durham, some parking areas have been suspended and some roads, like New Elvet, have been narrowed with cones in order to widen paths for socially-distancing pedestrians. There have been pop-up cycle lanes to discourage the use of public transport where possible, and in shops, we have seen sneeze guards fitted to protect staff and customers. 

Our clothing attire has also seen changes. The fabric mask, which prior to Covid-19 was not commonly worn as part of everyday life in Britain, has now become an important accessory.

Many people have begun to sew masks, including Lauren, who has been making her own masks more comfortable with the addition of two bows around the head. Some people opt to tie a scarf around the face, which is a good alternative.

Masks seem to be more popular in densely populated areas, but it is good to get into the habit of wearing them whenever we might come into contact with people outside our home. They demonstrate concern for the safety of those around us and a commitment to public health. 

A big part of British culture is the way that we greet one another. Handshakes and hugs used to be normal ways for us to interact, but with the dangers of physical contact, what should we be doing instead?

Perhaps we can draw inspiration from greetings around the world. The no-contact, hand-over-heart gesture is common in Muslim countries, and bowing is the customary greeting in Japan. World leaders have been greeting each other with the 'namaste' during the crisis. Perhaps we could try greeting each other in one of these ways or, we could become accustomed to just saying hello without a physical gesture. 

A change to student life

Throughout our academic lives, most things seemed certain. In school and college, the academic year would start in September and we would have a break in December. The school schedule would continue with little interruptions - only events like heavy snowfall have disrupted our (Francoise and Lauren’s) education.

But now, the timetable is unrecognisable and uncertain. We have become more accustomed to flexible learning, no longer having to be in the lecture hall to receive the lecture, or needing to be in an exam hall to sit the exam. The student culture will inevitably change, which includes previously normal behaviours like sitting around a small table for tutorials and sharing pens.

Despite any changes, we are sure that Durham University will do what they can to keep students connected, safe, and the recipients of a high standard of education. 

On the positive side, learning from home, either in college or privately rented accommodation, will potentially give students new freedoms. Time will be saved without a commute, and since students will have more access to their home kitchens or the dining hall, they may have the opportunity to eat healthier. Students may be more likely to participate in outdoor exercise, and the extra time spent with housemates could improve bonds or allow for self-care.

The incoming new undergraduates will be wondering what the changes to the university experience will mean to them. Induction Week is advertised as a big chance to meet new people, party and get to know their new city. Will there be a Freshers’ Fair? Will there be Matriculation in the Cathedral and formals to celebrate the incoming students?

Certainly, Induction Week will be structured differently. This may mean less connections being made and less exploration of Durham, which is far from ideal. But, new activities for Induction Week will be set up, making their experience unique and adapted to the extraordinary situation. 

Changes around the globe

We cannot reflect on the Covid-19 period without mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of George Floyd in America sparked attention for the campaign, which had originally gained media recognition and widespread support back in 2012, following the death of Trayvon Martin. As a result, millions of protesters around the world took to the streets as they are doing in 2020.

The fact that the 2020 protests are happening in the midst of a pandemic demonstrates how paramount fundamental human rights are to society. All human rights should be protected. Many have commented that there is more than one pandemic occurring: there is an obvious threat of coronavirus and also a pandemic of racism. People of colour are affected by institutional challenges and have been shown to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

Now, more than ever, it is important to become an ally to black people, and to utilise our voices to effect change and help those whose voices are not heard in the same way as ours might be. 

With the issue of systemic and institutionalised racism being discussed actively and white privilege being recognised, we hope there is a further movement in the right direction towards achieving a more inclusive, diverse and equal society. Further information about this is available online, such as through the Harvard University course or Durham University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion pages.

We do encourage all of our readers to educate themselves further and actively support the Black Lives Matter movement.  Some recommended ideas include: signing petitions, donating money to UK anti-racist charities, supporting black-owned businesses and recognising the microaggressions evident within society.

Near to Durham, and yet so far

We are missing Durham, but luckily there are virtual events that allow us to engage with the community. We will be attending the virtual tours of The Bowes Museum such as the Norman Cornish and Pre-Raphaelite Knights tours. For those who are currently located in the Durham area, the Seaham Food Festival can take place in your home, with food from exhibitors delivered to you. 

We are grateful for our involvement in societies to link us to Durham. Francoise is working with Enactus Durham and the Durham student division for JUSTICE. Lauren is involved with her choirs from afar. Our work towards building the Student Community Warden role has allowed us to become highly invested in the City, and we will continue to work for an improved Durham environment wherever we are! Any of our readers who might want to get involved with local initiatives could look into local food banks or the Green Move out Scheme

We are also aware that this period has been difficult for many. Any reader who needs support can look to organisations like the Durham Mutual Aid.

If you would like to get in touch with the Student Wellbeing and Community Engagement team, please use the following email: community.swceoffice@durham.ac.uk

Francoise Labode and Lauren Naughton 
Community Liaison Interns for Durham University