[Written by Esther Weisselberg (she/her)]
[names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities]
Coronavirus and lockdown have significantly affected the majority of people’s lives. Murano, Glasgow’s largest student residence, still holds on to a strange sense of normality within the chaos of 2020/21, maintaining its notorious reputation. However, socially and academically, it remains difficult for the students’ that are just getting to grips with university life.
In terms of academia, Caitlin, a student of veterinary science, expresses that it is ‘hard to find a balance’, especially for those with more spare time, ‘because you just feel like you never see anyone in real life in the daytime’. As a result of this, it is very difficult to find motivation and discipline, especially when confined to small rooms, which Caitlin suggests make students feel even more isolated. Zoom calls accentuate this feeling of claustrophobia and disconnection from other students – the same blue-walled bedrooms are reflected back at them during tutorials and seminars.
The repetitiveness of life in Murano can be hard to deal with. Caitlin, emphasises the fact that ‘it’s difficult because there’s no differentiation between days. Every day you wake in your little prison room and it always feels the same unless you have essays and exams to get on with’. Murano’s nights and weekends can be a break from the monotony of university work, but they’re still as repetitive.
For Caitlin, the library is important even with its limitations. ‘[It’s] still open, which is great as it’s a change of scenery, but I guess it’s just an extension of being in your bedroom. Everyone’s still sitting in silence getting on with their own thing’. For many, the academic side of university is a very solitary experience. She says, ‘you don’t want to be talking about your course in the evenings because it feels like that’s all you’ve thought about by yourself all day.’
Glasgow was one of the first universities in the UK to open its doors in September 2020. As a result, many of the first-year students caught coronavirus in Murano, which led to a large amount of criticism from the media. Isobel, a Film and Television student, highlighted the fact that it felt like the students of Murano were being portrayed as an example; ‘this actually felt really unfair because – yes we went out, partied and all got coronavirus – but this was the case at other unis, and they weren’t being targeted as much as it felt like we were.’ The inevitability of a covid-19 outbreak due to the government pushing university students to go back to their accommodation, combined with media scrutiny, felt disappointing to many.
During isolation, students were phoned by central services to check that themselves and their isolating flatmates were doing alright, however Isobel, and others expressed dismay at this; ‘it felt like it was more of a survey than actually checking if we were okay.’ Details of mental health services and other organisations weren’t brought to people’s attention. Isobel recalls complex feelings around the time as ‘it felt kind of awful, but actually I was having a great time because it felt like we were all in it together’. She still acknowledges her position in all this, ‘obviously I’m really privileged to be able to say that, because I don’t have any pre-existing conditions that could have made it worse or scarier”.
In September, a rent rebate for all students living in Murano was automatically given. Isobel commented ‘although it was a nice gesture, I decided to move out of home and am happy to pay rent for a flat that I’m pretty much in 24/7. What I didn’t decide was to pay over 9 grand for some online lectures from professors who don’t know how to use Zoom!”
Although some in Murano are thriving socially – often those who know people from home – others find that this experience really depends on who is in your ‘bubble’ and who you live with. Relying on your flatmates to be your closest friends at university is difficult for everyone, pandemic or not, and it’s all the more difficult this year for those who don’t click with their flatmates. Sociology student, Billy, says that, as all of the academic work this year has been in lockdown and tiers, ‘if you were placed with people you literally hated and couldn’t live with, then it kind of felt like the end of the world because you only met new people at nights when you couldn’t really bond with anyone’. Consequently, it has created a jarring divide between university experiences. For some people it’s really great and they’re enjoying more of the typical uni experience, but others are really struggling. Caitlin adds that, even if you do get on well with your flatmates and neighbours, ‘everyone has such different schedules and their own timetables so it’s like you’re always on different time zones and, if you’re in a small flat, a lot of the time it can feel like you live by yourself’.
It’s hard to imagine Murano without a pandemic. For many first-year students, covid-19 and the infamous halls have become forever bound to one another. Even without an unprecedented event such as this, halls of residences can pose challenges for first year students. And so, perhaps this is a good time to look at other pressing issues to students: rent and tenancy agreements, the digitalisation of university degrees, and of course, mental health. One day we may remove the face mask, step out of our social bubble, and actually go to a club, but we’ll always have Murano to remind us of everything this past year was, and wasn’t.