23 October 2020

Take care of the silent student


It is Monday and the work week has officially started up again. However, that's not how it feels because everything is digital and e-mails and messages are flooding in all the time. My "work week" has become a strange mix of boardwork, classes and side jobs from Sunday to Friday, with some time for myself and study on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Still, I've managed to find a rhythm in this chaos, and every day after 20:00 I close my laptop, put the phone away and close the study books.

I am quite the control freak. My days are neatly planned out in my calendar, and without my overview of lists and tasks on Asana, I wouldn't get anywhere. I have a whole arsenal of "tips & tricks" to get through this new Corona wave and to stay sane in my tiny Uilenstede room. But I've been doing this for five years, and I've amassed a great safety net during that time.

The USR - my fellow colleagues who are all committed to other students - whose passion feeds mine, are a great support. In addition, I have the cohort of my study year that I can always fall back on. My uni friends of the past five years. My study association. Teachers I've known for years and can always email or meet up with for a 1.5m distanced coffee. Roommates I've known for three years.

So I'm worried, very worried indeed, because I don't think we worry quite enough yet. It keeps me awake at night, now that the days are getting shorter and the numbers are rising again. I have a safety net, I have my calendar, my golden tips and tricks. But what do first-year students have? What do international students who moved to Amsterdam, all on their own, have? What do students who live alone, without family and friends in the neighborhood, have?

Covid-19 has a lethal and silent brother, and we're not afraid enough of him

Every day these questions wander through my head. In addition to my USR role as Coordinator of Education & Research, I am also Student-Coordinator of my study's mentoring program. I experience first-hand the difference between last year and this year for new students. My study program has a great team of teachers, but even that is not enough to make up the difference in this situation. Students are lonely. They lack the connection with a university, a study and fellow students they've never seen in real life. The VU has a lot of facilities, and the employees and teachers are doing their best. But if it is difficult for multi-year students to ask for help, how impossible is it for first-year students?

Covid-19 is a pandemic, and everyone is afraid of the physical consequences. But Covid-19 has a lethal and silent brother, and we're not afraid enough of him. The psychological consequences for students are enormous, and we won't really realize how excessive they are until afterwards. In the end, how do you offer help to students struggling with e.g. anxiety and depression if this is what causes students to withdraw even further?

It's the quiet students we have to be on the lookout for, but how can you signal something you can't see, hear or smell?

Kimberly van den Ouden
Student-orientated Support, Presidium

Kimberly van den Ouden USR



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