I’M curled up on my desk chair writing this rather hesitantly. In my last article I could write fluently, willed on by anger and injustice, envisioning myself speaking for the masses and excited for any sign of movement. Now, having (illegally, dare I say) returned to my garret room at the top of my student house, I’m sitting back and looking at the broken rays of amber spread themselves across my walls in the sunset. My house is full and lively amidst the return of housemates, but a deeper sense of loneliness and hopelessness has settled in the wake of a new year.
The state of return is clear: brace for another year of hell, and be blamed if we don’t comply and if our grandparents die. Our present is tormented with the future of a ruined economy, a future which we will spend healing from the months we have lost. The funding from the government leaves students with an extra £20 per head. That’s barely a frugal week’s worth of food, let alone a whole year of wasted rent. Dropping out no longer seems a viable option; how can we thrust ourselves into employment? The thought of doing a panic Masters’ degree to try to stand out against our peers is tempting. But I cannot stand the thought of pumping more money into a system which condones the loss of livelihoods and offers such a one-sided narrative.
I have been threatened with being kicked out of my course if I violate any of the restrictions. I furtively avoid the main roads for risk of meeting security, bottle of wine under my coat as I sneakily meet up with a few girlfriends for pasta as a New Year reunion. We speak quietly, afraid to play Abba or the Stones too loudly in case we start dancing and having fun. The only topics of conversation are Covid, depression and boyfriends (if we’re so lucky), as we stand outside on a concrete patio, cigarette smoke curling into the dark. I was 19 at the beginning of the first lockdown; I turn 21 in two months. Value of life starts to slip away, and you are forced into a dull existence, dare I say it, a ‘a half-life, a cursed life’ in the words of J K Rowling. There is a scramble every day to try to cling on for a reason to stay when being at home offers us free meals and decent hot water, but a covert social life is better than none. I’m fortunate to come from a loving family, but the thought of staying in my bedroom seeing none of my peers and having no independence feels like torture. We dare not leave because there is such a fear of being forgotten.
It’s not just that Covid has exposed the universities as money-sinking institutions. This frustration embodies a whole era of decline in the further education system. There is no debate, no possible way of engaging with a tutor about the possible deceit by the government for risk of excommunication. It’s the same with Brexit, critical theory and wokeism. There is such a lack of nuanced debate for any young conservative that it makes you want to give up entirely.
I’ve been told that I’m ‘missing the point’ by a seminar tutor for relating Brexit to the concept of increased freedom in a liberty seminar. The same tutor smirked, ‘So who else was upset with the referendum result?’ I’ve been told that I cannot be a feminist and vote Conservative. I find this ironic; am I being told, as a woman, that I cannot vote for who I want? My international relations module is splattered with the idea that we have to give back for the wrongdoings which were committed in a society that does not reflect my own. This term, I have been encouraged to write about only gender and sexuality for a political research project. It’s not as if I am not interested in the atrocities of history from all perspectives, but I am interested in facts and conversations, not propaganda. With propaganda we start seeing censorship, and I felt as though my country was dying when Big Tech made its censorship debut over the Christmas holidays. I will not, however, stop this bias driving me to gain an education.
We desperately need our lives back, for what do we have to cling on to? Friends? Yes. But friends who have dull eyes and no zest for life breed such sadness it’s as if they had never existed at all. The excitement of returning to university was short-lived. We have no chance of meeting course-mates and tutors until March at the earliest. Until then, we spend our hours behind our screens, day in day out, losing grasp of the most beautiful and terrifyingly unpredictable time of our lives. Our mental health is being pushed to the limit. We are locked up, losing our education and losing sight of our will to live.
We will survive this: we still have books, talent and a yearning for progress. But politics faces a new generation of leaders who have been robbed, and we will not anchor our boat of anger until we have been heard and listened to.