Social chairs and societies on navigating the wider student experience restrictions

By Lara Moamar

Compared to the rush of balls and formals in Michaelmas term, the growing number of Covid-19 cases poses a risk to the wider student experience in Epiphany. The restrictions implemented by the University include a 25-person cap on college and society events until week three, making it difficult for student committees to plan ahead.

Interview spoke to St Mary’s College JCR co-social chairs, Matt Newhall and Alice Watson, about the difficulty of preserving the college social experience amidst uncertainty. 

Q. What events were you originally planning to run this term that now seem unlikely? 

A.  “The future of formals is looking rather uncertain — going into the term, we were looking to hold seven catered events in college, but this number has since dropped to five with our main social committee now running only two. In particular, our first formal is currently dependent on the assurance that university restrictions will begin to lift as of week three, with the rest of term in question if these do not.”

Q. What is the biggest challenge you have had to face when making changes to these plans?

A. “Last term we ran some external events, although these were very successful and popular there is a difference in cost for students. We wanted to ensure that we could give everyone the lowest price possible to not alienate people. Students have expectations of what each type of event should cost and were not happy with the higher cost for the events at the external venue.”

Q.Are there plans to give certain year groups priority to make up for lost experiences?

A.  “This term, we are trying to give each year group one formal with priority so that everyone will hopefully get an event this term. All year groups have expressed this issue, however, it’s a logistic nightmare to cater for everyone — for 3rd/4th years this is one of their last chances to have an event; 2nd years have already had a full year with not many events, and 1st years are in a similar position, so we are trying our best in a tricky situation.”

We have found that we are on the receiving end of many peoples’ frustrations

The University’s increased restrictions, considerably stricter than current government restrictions, prioritise the health of students and staff. However, it is telling that the uncertainty surrounding the plans to lift restrictions makes it more difficult to organise events. The St Mary’s JCR social chairs state: “We have found that we are on the receiving end of many people’s frustrations. This is not only about Covid-19 restrictions, but also the restrictions that have had to be in place due to staff shortages in the kitchen.”

Similarly, student societies have also faced difficulty planning for socials this term. Interview spoke to the International Students Association (ISA) Vice-President, Elena Meier, about the society’s plans. 

Q. For ISA, Lunar New Year is usually a big celebration, have you had to make changes in your planning for the annual event? 

A.  “Currently, because of the uncertainty of what the University is allowing, we have had to pause our planning for a bigger event to celebrate Lunar New Year. We are currently looking at organising a smaller event. Not only have the new restrictions themselves posed difficulties for planning, but it has been a challenge to find and book venues and organise the logistics of events with only very short notice.”

Q. Quite a few international students stayed home over the Christmas break due to heightened restrictions. How did you adapt your planning to offer help to those staying over the break?

A. “The ISA organised Christmas Care Packages that students could sign up for, each care package included winter essentials such as hand warmers, hot chocolate & tea, festive masks and candies, and a handwritten note from our execs. In addition to that, we created a Facebook group where all international students who are staying in Durham over the holidays can join. We also hosted a coffee get-together for those who were still in Durham, it was lovely getting to know those that came.”

Q. Do you feel that students are more wary now of events posing a health risk?

A. “We assume that some students are more reluctant to attend larger events with a lot of people, but believe that requiring negative LFTs has provided some reassurance. Many international students have had to bear the risk of Covid-19 by travelling home for the holidays, so we also imagine that with the current uncertainty, students are going to remain wary.”

Image credit: barnyz via Flickr

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