Last week, I walked through the precinct of one of the universities near to me. It happened to be Tuesday of freshers’ week. Normally the campus would have been bustling with people; a whirlwind of activity. This year, stewards wearing visors and hi-vis jackets outnumbered new students. Signs around the university instructed students to only come onto campus if they really needed to.
In fact, whether they’ve explicitly put up signs saying so or not, this has been the default position of most universities. Unis are prioritising the facility of teaching and learning (whether online or face-to-face) over provision for the other activities that would normally characterise student life at this point of term.
This has been hard for students to stomach, especially the cohort of new students who share between them a common desire to make friends and to start fitting in. With a lack of space and opportunity to meet on campus – and especially where there are extra local lockdown restrictions – many students have found themselves spending hours on end in their accommodation blocks.
For some this has been inconvenient and annoying. Chatting to one student on social media, they told me:
‘Freshers’ week at UK universities this year seems mainly to be about drinking in your kitchen and struggling with poor wi-fi.’
For other students, the experience has not simply been annoying but frightening. I’ve heard stories of students who’ve been too scared to leave their rooms. Others have been distressed by the thought of being ill alone, without the reassuring presence of a parent. A few have found themselves in halls of residence that have been locked down entirely and spoken of the difficulty of getting access to painkillers or food.
Though some students are just ‘making the best of things’ and others have discovered a deep camaraderie in their afflictions, it’s no surprise that on top of the feelings that go with normally being a new student in a new place, freshers have reported feeling angry, lonely, frustrated, fearful and overwhelmed.
Of course, Christian students drink the same water and breathe the same air as everyone else. We are subject to these same emotions. But I’ve been impressed by stories I’ve heard of students who know Jesus courageously serving friends and sharing hope on their campuses over these past weeks.
Blessing students in lockdown
In some cities, entire CUs have clubbed together with local churches to provide wellbeing packs for those in locked-down halls. One student told me that he’d taken it upon himself to cook a lasagne for his entire flat – the first real meal that most of them had eaten since arriving at university!
New Student Welcome Packs
Others have reported how helpful they’ve found UCCF’s New Student Welcome Packs, deliberately designed to provide them with much-needed spiritual support, but also providing consumables to share and lots of Covid-secure ideas for fun. One student – as I write currently locked down and unable to leave in his hall of residence – spoke of how the pack’s tea-towel of questions had prompted a conversation with a flatmate who doesn’t know Jesus but whose family are Christians.
This term, in CU Impact Groups, students across the nation are studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul encourages his Philippian friends – themselves under pressure – that when they joyfully commit themselves to the word of life amidst affliction, they shine like stars in the sky.
Things are dark on campus at present, but at this time, the students amongst God’s people can shine especially brightly.
This blog was written by Peter Dray, UCCF's Director of Creative Evangelism. He is passionate about finding ways of making Christ known in the range of student contexts that are both faithful to the gospel and which scratch where students really itch! You can find him on twitter @peterdray.
Why not send a virtual postcard? This is a great way to encourage your local CU, or perhaps get in touch with your old CU. This will spur students on as they prepare for another year of mission on campus.
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