As the pandemic moves between various waves, students’ concern over the virus has fluctuated. However we’re all longing for a bit of normality after nearly a year of this ‘new normal’ (forgive us for using the term), and there’s a whole host of other causes and concerns that students are still passionate about.
Almost three-quarters of students feel very strongly about mental health (74%) and racism (73%), while climate change is also a major concern for 61% of students. These are all topics and issues that you can champion, discuss and connect with students over, at a time when they are feeling untethered from the world.
Just because of lockdown, doesn’t mean students haven’t been participating in activism. In fact, 58% of students told us that they would feel comfortable taking part in activism at the moment, with 37% expressing an interest in taking part in protests and demonstrations online. One in five students have participated in activism, with social media being the main means of expressing their concerns (60%), a safe alternative to traditional protests and demonstrations under the pandemic. Through these platforms, people can raise awareness of social issues and connect with like-minded people. So, what can you do to encourage your students to voice their concerns for what they care about in a safe, socially-distanced way that speaks to their preferred method of activism?
Look to student-led societies to foster community activism
With a large proportion of students caring about the environment and climate change (over 60%), setting up an activist group within GreenSoc is a great option. By encouraging talks and webinars, and sharing information on sustainability, you can support your green students in their fight to improve biodiversity. You could also post content on your institutions’ social media pages that relates to the subjects that matter most to your student body. Sharing how your research is helping in the fight against climate change would highlight your affinity with and commitment to their concerns. You should also highlight any achievements or breakthroughs that these activist groups make; celebrate them on your university website and share their social posts, further encouraging engagement with the topic. Your students will feel supported and connected to fellow activists, even when traditional activism is less feasible.
Earlier this year, Student Hut ran a focus group to discuss diversity and inclusion among Black British students, and those individuals commented on the support and connectedness they felt within their African Caribbean Societies. How can you support these safe places, even during lockdown and Christmas holidays?
Alongside supporting societies, institutions should seek to highlight best practices for activism. We know that some activism can be extreme; and it’s important to support your students in a way that is beneficial to them and the cause, so offer information on how they can express their views in a safe and sensible way. And if your institution has a proud history of activism, celebrate it!
Support networks and communities are born out of shared values
But your involvement should not be limited to activist groups; with two in five students settling in poorly this term, they require ongoing support. With so many topics at the forefront of their concerns, not to mention the uncertainty around the pandemic and their family and friends’ health as primary worries, issues such as racism, body positivity and mental health can all be voiced through community groups. Setting up support networks via societies can be an empowering tool for students who currently feel isolated and are struggling mentally with the pandemic, while allowing them to engage in projects that will make a difference.
Overall, the pandemic has proved difficult for both institutions and students. However, nine in 10 students still feel supported by their university or college. In particular, exercising, socialising and studying have all been complicated by the current pandemic, so it’s all the more important that your students receive support in facilitating these aspects of university life. Make sure your students know where they can find help and empower societies to engage in causes that students feel passionate about.
If you would like to discover more student insights, straight from the students themselves get involved with our Student Tracker project for fortnightly reports and the opportunity to ask your own questions.