For me, a Masters student, my time in Oxford has been all too brief

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The novel coronavirus will go down in history, not for causing tens of thousands of deaths, not for shutting down entire societies, nor even for sparking a fundamental reassessment of what society means, but for stopping me from personally taking my exams in a gown and mortar board.

Yes, the real crisis is not in Italy or Spain nor even in the ICUs of New York City. It is the fact that my access to all twenty-eight of the Bodleian libraries has been cut off.

What an awful imposition on my tuition-fee entitled rights this has been. I implore Boris directly: I’m not interested in how many ventilators we need and how few we have. I don’t work for the NHS and I don’t know anyone who does, so why should I worry about their critical shortage of PPE? In any case, I can’t understand why the media rabble insist on using that acronym when anyone with any sense knows it stands for philosophy, politics and economics.

Instead I beg HM Government and our Proctors to tell us what we all are burning to know – when can we get back on the Isis for some punting, well-lubricated with Pimm’s?

How do you mourn your all-too-brief life in Oxford without coming across as sickeningly privileged and self-centred? The answer is that you can’t.

Now that I have your attention, let me set the irony aside. I’m a Master’s student, who is enrolled on a nine-month MSc. The horrors of what I’ve written above are a hint of how difficult it is to express sadness at our own situation while keeping it in perspective.

I moved to Oxford at the beginning of October, and left in mid-December. Returning in early January, I had most of that month and February before leaving again for Easter about two weeks ago. That’s about four months of teaching in total.

Within those four months, across both Michaelmas and Hilary terms, our teaching time was further reduced by industrial action. We lost two full weeks in Michaelmas, missing presentations, panel talks, seminars and more. Many in my cohort did not get feedback for work submitted weeks or months prior, or didn’t hand in essays due during the strike as there would be no feedback on them.

We supported the strike in both instances, because we understand that people’s careers and livelihoods are more important than our Hilary Week 7 or some tutorial essay. We support the measures that the university and country has taken to flatten the coronavirus curve, and in fact we have been vocal about the ways Oxford fell short early on in the crisis.

But (of course there is a ‘but’) it is hard not to feel aggrieved or short-changed at how brutally brief our Oxford experience has been. Unlike most undergraduates, most of us will not return in October. The likelihood, particularly for the high proportion of international students among us, is that our time strolling smugly around Radcliffe Square is at an end.

For rowers especially, the combination of pandemic and the worst river conditions in a generation, with Christ Church Regatta, Torpids and probably Summer Eights cancelled, the temptation is to declare an annus horribilis.

It is no use railing against the hands of Fate. The fact is that the strikes and the pandemic were and are out of the university’s hands. We just happened to be the year group on whom both these major events converged.

How do you mourn your all-too-brief life in Oxford without coming across as sickeningly privileged and self-centred? The answer is that you can’t. It is a bitter pill to acknowledge that our sadness over missing out on Trinity term – one of the nicer ones, I hear – may be painful, but compared to losing a life or a livelihood it’s nothing.

Master’s students came to Oxford from other universities around the UK and the world knowing full well that the course would be short, expensive, and intense. None of us expected just how short it would turn out to be, and as a result we all have regrets: societies skipped, friends unmade, relationships unexplored.

In my weeks of self-isolation at home I have found it unhelpful to dwell on the loss of our time at Oxford. I don’t mean to say it’s also ungrateful or selfish for us to dwell on it either, because you shouldn’t listen to columnists saying whose feelings are valid or not! However, in the words of every cheesy piece of relationship advice ever, we must simply be glad that it happened to us at all.

A refund would be pretty nice too.

Image credit: outnaboutwithcamera, Creative Commons

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