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‘Stop calling students snowflakes and brats – and show them respect’

Written by on 09/10/2020

With coronavirus cases continuing to spread at a disturbing rate throughout campus, the University of Sheffield has today made the drastic decision to suspend all face to face teaching.

All teaching has been moved online with cases continuing to soar and hundreds of students are having to quarantine to try and stop the virus from infecting others.

It is far from the university experience many students would have anticipated when they began studying for their A-Levels a couple of years ago but it is the grim reality they must face in this uncertain world we now live in.

One person who has seen first hand just how different university is in 2020 is Lisa Bradley, who is the director of learning and teaching for journalism at the University of Sheffield.

After just one day of face to face teaching, she was told she had been exposed to the virus and has since had to self-isolate, and while she is sad to not be catching up with her students, she understands the risk is too high to continue lectures, seminars and other forms of teaching in a face to face capacity.

But one thing she cannot comprehend is the abuse and hate being directed at students over the past couple of weeks and in a letter to YorkshireLive, she has urged us all to show compassion to the workers of out future as they navigate their way through these dark and unsettling times.

Lisa Bradley has urged people to show some empathy towards students

Last week I walked through the ghost town of campus and felt my heart plummet. Whereas residents of the city say the students are not adhering to guidelines, gathering in throngs, not socially distancing, I can assure you it’s very different in our empty lecture theatres and hollow classrooms.

The usual buzz of The Diamond has been silenced. The lights are dim by unoccupied desks. There are no clatters of keyboards. No smell of coffee. No feeling of life.

The small group of students I was teaching arrived, excited, alert, desperate for some human interaction. I couldn’t smile at them, nor them at me, due to the face masks.

But I could feel the crackle in the air, the look in their eyes as something dawns on them. The low chatter building and building as ideas and questions crescend like the crest of a wave.

And then it’s over. The only two hours of face to face teaching they will get. All week.

Less staff, smaller group sizes, increased demand on timetables and rooms as a result of Covid means that is it. It’s all we can physically, logistically provide. The rest is online.

And that’s for the lucky ones. The others are self-isolating, either with symptoms or without. Either with a positive Covid test or their housemate has one. A housemate until two weeks ago, they didn’t even know.

As for the staff, well after that ONE face to face teaching day I did, I was alerted to say I had been exposed to the virus and as a result, I am now self isolating. It’s hard to see how the cycle will break. The tutors and the students will be stuck in a never ending cycle of one week on campus, two weeks in isolation.

As from today (Friday) all face to face has had to be suspended due to a growing, vicious spike.

So, the students are here, trapped inside their tiny rooms, not coming to class, not being able to get to the shops, not being able to establish those lifelong friendships they were so ravenous for. Their first bite at independence has been taken away.

And before you all tell me to pluck my tiny violin, remember yourself at 18. First time away from home. Maybe you went to university, maybe you didn’t. But either way, one day you’ll have unpacked a handful of cardboard boxes, which is all that belongs to you in your new world. Doors about to be opened. Dragons to be slayed, Quests to be conquered.

Instead of saving the world, you’re watching out of your window, drinking cans of Stella, bingeing on Netflix and slowly turning into Fat Thor.

Joking aside, while sometimes this city sneers at the student population, these are the young people who could one day be operating on you, teaching your children, designing your buildings, defending you, leading your country.

Former students here include several heads of state, a home secretary, court of appeal judges, Booker Prize winners, astronauts and gold medalists.

Enough with the snowflakes, stop calling them “brats”. They are young adults, many who, just a few months ago, were still in school uniform. They are young, trying to make sense of what has become a very scary future for them.

And while I don’t condone any of their behaviour in terms of going out, getting hammered and pretty much just licking each other, my honest opinion is most of them know it was a mistake.

The University of Sheffield was funded by the people of the city. In 1904, steelworkers, coal miners, factory workers and the people of Sheffield donated over £50,000 via penny donations to help found it, for this very reason. For the future.

They are ours. Show some empathy please. Because one day, you might need it from them.