If I were to list all the ways Covid-19 has impacted students, there wouldn’t be enough room for an actual opinion. To name a few, just think of students who are essential workers, students who are parents, students without devices, the thousands of exchange students (both inward and outward bound) being uprooted, postgraduate students finding themselves faced with the choice of delaying their research or starting a new thesis altogether, international students, already facing financial uncertainty, having it exacerbated by the pandemic.
We’ve all felt the effect of Covid-19. At the outset of this lockdown, like many other Kiwi Hosts, I had to move with little notice. I’m lucky that this was the extent of my inconvenience during lockdown. But others weren’t so lucky. They faced financial stress, drastic academic changes and mental hardship.
Student representation during lockdown had to change. Our work during this time has often been, to a frustrating level, behind closed doors and on private Zooms. When everything went online, the University could have shut us out (or they could have tried). Instead, the Exec have had a seat at so many tables - including the big ones. Most days, I have been in at least one meeting with the Vice-Chancellor and senior university management. Student representation has been regular and, for the most part, warmly welcomed. We’ve used this platform to see real changes happen for students: rebates for absent UniFlat residents and RA’s that chose to stay, and a universal grade bump. The inclusion of a “COVID-19” special consideration category, and the largest hardship fund in the University’s history. Not to mention the one-on-one advocacy we do for students that approach us, and our collaborative lobbying efforts with NZUSA and dozens of students’ associations to achieve equitable conditions and support for all students.
Alert Level 2 will bring with it a new normal, and a new set of challenges. This lockdown has shown me that our advocacy needs to remain flexible so that we can produce results, no matter what the challenges are. It has also reminded me that student representation isn’t a waiting game. We need to demand student-focused representation, because the decisions institutions like the University and the Government make impact all of us.