Trigger warning: mention of suicide.
I am a mature learner studying Education at university. I was elected as Vice President Education and Democracy for the academic year 2021/2022 where I will create and run workshops with students for students on using digital tools, which will also be open to teaching staff and anyone else at the university who feel they may benefit. I will also work with the VP Welfare and Community to ensure mental health is prioritised at the university.
Blackboard and Teams have enabled students to access our resources early, submit assignments and interact with our lecturers during lectures and seminars. More and more students are setting up their own communication channels, such as Discord, where students can just be students, study and get to know each other online. These communication platforms are vital for student engagement and experience within the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams fatigue is very real. Students are getting tired quicker than normal. Online delivery allows me to be able to watch my recorded lectures, and as a student with dyslexia this is vital for me to better achieve the grades I need. The lack of social interaction is causing concerns for student social skills, student sense of belonging, and the overall university experience. I haven’t met my coursemates yet which makes it difficult to engage in group work. I was lucky to be part of a wider Southampton unofficial Discord server, to which I’m now an admin of, where I made friends prior to starting Southampton but it’s not the same.
Despite this, we still feel alone. Suicide rates in students have rose by 56% in the last ten years, and in October 2020, eight students died. How many names and numbers is it going to be before our welfare is taken seriously?
I went from being surrounded by students and teachers, to being alone in a bedroom wondering when I could go home and see my mum, when the first time I could meet my friends; it’s my best friend’s birthday today and I haven’t seen him in four months.
We’re blamed for wanting to talk to someone. To see someone other than the stranger in the other room. To feel something else, than alone and depressed. International students want to go home. It is scary to be eighteen, in a global pandemic, so far away from home, where maybe, for the first time in your life, you’re on a waiting list for counselling or taking your first dose of antidepressants because you’re scared you’re going to end up as a statistic. Perhaps the ninth student to lose their life in such a short space of time.
So we need our government and universities to do better. It doesn’t matter what we could have done, it matters what we do now. Train our lecturers in using digital technology, stop blaming us for being terrified and upset, implement better mental health strategies in HE, talk about us in briefings – we exist.. Don’t blame the teachers who feel embarrassed, frustrated, stressed, overworked and undervalued.
And please don’t let us become a statistic.
You can listen to the podcast I featured on discussing wellbeing in higher education and the use of educational technology in online teaching and learning by clicking on this link to be redirected to the EdTech Podcast website.