The empty threat of a cancelled Christmas

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

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The government’s suggestion that students may be banned from returning home for the Christmas holidays seems to me nothing but an empty threat, yet the die has already been cast.

We were told to enjoy the pubs, go out to eat (at a discounted price) and return to university. We were promised blended learning, an ambiguous concept to ensure that our (very expensive) education will not be jeopardised or watered down. Now, as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson vaguely hints that students may be forced to stay locked up in their accommodation over Christmas, the list of idle threats and nonsensical guidelines spewed out by our government grows even longer.

Upon returning to university students have been disappointed by courses being conducted fully online, with many lectures being pre-recorded, recycled from previous years, or simply non-existent. The numerous headlines demonising students for daring to move out and begin their adult lives have insinuated that we’re to blame for an impending second wave of COVID-19, creating an extremely hostile environment between younger and older generations. The threat of confining students to their accommodation over Christmas is the final nail in the coffin.

But it is not these empty threats that are most disruptive; the suggestion that young adults, many of whom may have experienced extreme isolation or feelings of loneliness in their first term, could be somehow banned from returning back to their families for the holidays is idiotic and cruel. A rule preventing students from travelling home or parents from collecting them is unrealistic and, ultimately, unenforceable. These irresponsible suggestions have served no other purpose than to create undue fear and stress in students, whilst further weakening young people’s trust in the government.

For the sake of the argument, let us imagine that some ruthless system is put in place to lock us inside of our flats and houses. The motorways are shut, neighbourhood watch patrols every student-infested street, and the Trainline app mysteriously vanishes off everyone’s phones. For returning students who may already have an established support network and close friends to live with, the prospect of missing Christmas at our family homes may be more bearable, albeit slightly shabbier. But for new students, it would be devastating.

Fellow non-freshers, try to cast your ancient minds back to those hedonistic first months at Kent. If you were very lucky, you may have instantly clicked with randomly allocated flatmates and breezed through first year, evading arguments over sticky floors and awkward kitchen conversations. You might have even ventured out to a different floor or house, collecting new BFF’s through your course or society, maybe even the queue to Venue.

But the reality of university rarely lives up to the glossy pictures in the prospectus. It’s often lonely nights in a new city and an intense workload to get used to. This is tricky at the best of times. Now combine this with a 10pm drinking curfew, an inability to socialise outside of your flat and no chance of meeting like-minded people in a lecture or seminar. This is a recipe for poor mental health and some very unhappy first years. Being denied the option to return to the familiarity of home for Christmas after that would be simply unjust.

There is no denying that controlling the virus is extremely important, and precautions must of course be taken to try and keep communities safe, especially in the lead up to winter. But isolating young people from their families will do much more harm than good.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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