University often feels like a strange in-between space where you’ve left the warm cosy embrace of home life, but you haven’t quite got to the terrifying, looming threat of independent life. For most people, it is the first time that they have lived away from home, cooked for themselves and organised their time independently.
However, universities are designed to make this transition as easy as possible, making it not quite as difficult as adulthood. Living in university accommodation means that most of your needs are taken care of for the first year. For when things get a little more difficult most universities also put in place support systems that aren’t to be found in the real world, such as drop in centres for people who need advice, and careers advisors to assist with making the first steps post-degree.
All of this can make university seem a bit like a paradise – you have all the benefits of living independently, but when things are looking a bit difficult then there are measures to hopefully help with your problems. However, universities are not in control of natural disasters. No matter how much they may seem to have the answers, when crisis strikes there’s often little that universities can do, and they seem just as fallible as everyone else.
I study in York, and spent most of the post-Christmas period frantically checking social media and government websites to make sure that my student house hadn’t flooded. Being almost 100 miles away from my house made me feel slightly helpless, and I didn’t really know what I’d do if the internet did tell me that my house had been flooded.
It was also difficult to get definitive information on the flooding. There was extensive coverage of the destruction that the water had caused to the city centre, but beyond being told that there was a red warning in place on my street, I had no evidence of whether or not the water had made its way up to the doorstep – and no one to let me know when it did.
However, in a move that will probably cement his place in the annals of Student Union history, our SU president made it his mission to document as many streets in York as possible in order to put to rest the worries of students up and down the country. Over a period of a few days, and in collaboration with Nouse, the University of York’s student newspaper, Ben Leatham got on his bike and took pictures of streets throughout the city based on Facebook posts by worried students.
The effort that went into Ben’s mission, at a time when the weather was less than forgiving, is the sort of action that makes university students feel like they are being supported, even in situations that the institution itself has absolutely no control over.
The way that a university reacts to a crisis says a lot about the level of care that it has for its students. It’s the personal touches like Ben’s cycling efforts that make students feel comfortable in their day-to-day lives. I’ll be honest and say that I am not particularly well versed on the specific responsibilities of our Student Union officers. However these actions that are entirely outside of their remit are the things that ensure that these individuals are remembered by anyone attending York at that time.
At the beginning of the Christmas break, Lancaster University was hit with the same flooding problems, resulting in the cancellation of exams, deadlines and lectures, with students being sent home early for the Christmas holidays. Again, the Student Union were praised on social media for their response to the problem, with displaced students given accommodation throughout campus, and provided with food and blankets.
In the destruction that crises can cause, it is heartwarming to see the positive reactions that people have to them. A crisis at university can hit home the hardest for students, as it is probably the first time that they have had to deal with problems that directly affect them without guidance from their family. The efforts that universities make don’t have to be massive – all that the affected Lancaster students wanted was somewhere dry and to feel like someone was looking out for them.
Holly Woolnough is an English student at the University of York. She really likes it when things are organised neatly and will probably tell you about this fantastic dog she once saw.