I’ve got hundreds of questions for the University, but the overarching one is fairly simple: how have they kept a straight face as they stitch-up their students at every turn? How did they resist the temptation to add a cheeky ‘lol’ to the emails that rejected student residency in favour of letting tourists roam the grounds? Which wannabe comedian came up with the idea of adding a line about the importance of student well-being to the end of emails announcing measures that make student well-being immeasurably worse?
Every email that comes into my inbox from a University or college email at the moment displays a breath-taking lack of self-awareness. I recently got one with the line “remember to have fun” near the end. I held my breath, beside myself at the idea that someone in college might actually value my social life. Imagine my disappointment when I read the next words: “fun is a vital ingredient for optimising your performance.” In Oxford, that’s what passes for a message of encouragement. To anyone else, it’s the sort of phrase you’d see on a billboard in a dystopian future where humans are kept as pets by robot overlords.
The pandemic has laid bare the tutors’ predilection for viewing every aspect of student life through a magnifying lens of academic achievement, which they seem to have placed firmly between food and water on their warped idea of a student hierarchy of needs. During the pandemic they’ve turned this magnifying glass on students to devastating effect, frying us like ants in the summer sun. Without wanting to sound needy, it would be lovely to hear from someone at the University who cares about my well-being regardless of whether it improves my essays.
You can’t even escape to social media for a break from it all. Take the official University Twitter account, which recently published a video on the benefits of walking that included the (unironic) line “if you get a really bad email from your boss or a frustrating message from your sister, go out and stretch your legs.” If I went for a stroll every time I got a “really bad email” from the University, I’d be able to drop out altogether and pursue a career as an Olympic walker. If the frequency of these “really bad emails” continues when everyone comes back I worry that Cornmarket might start to erode.
Another shining example of this total inability to read the room came in their tweet urging the student population not to trash each other because of the practice’s “negative social, financial and personal impacts on the whole Oxford community.” I’m all for a bit of well-placed environmentalism, but being lectured about the social impact of shaving cream by an institution that is perfectly happy to support arms companies leaves a distinctly bitter taste in one’s mouth. God forbid the sound of celebrating students disturb the researchers hard-at-work on Britain’s next for-profit death machine.
Now, this would all be very funny if these messages weren’t coming straight from the people that have been assessing our mental health claims for the last six months. The delicious irony of being asked the reasons for my mental health issues by the institution that has caused almost every problem in my life for the last two years has not been lost on me.
Only Oxford could turn the delicate process of divulging a mental health issue into a sick version of Britain’s Got Talent that’s all sob-story and no singing. And, to be honest, if I was choosing whom to divulge the intimate details of my home life to, I’d rather Simon Cowell than a panel of tutors whose combined insight into mental illness is that it disappears when you go for a bloody walk.
Art by Justin Lim.