Residents of Manchester’s Fallowfield campus awoke to the construction of fences around their accommodation on Thursday 5 November, without warning. These restrictions prevented students from having access to other areas of the campus, inducing feelings of anxiety and entrapment.
The general feeling of unease resulted in student-led protests, with participants taking matters into their own hands by tearing down the confining fences.
Despite the general sense of unease amongst the students, protesters were careful to keep in line with the coronavirus guidelines with many students wearing face masks and enforcing social distancing rules.
Manchester University's President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell responded to the protest in an interview with The Mancunion saying: “I sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence today. This was not our intention – in fact, quite the reverse.”
Though, students noted they felt supported by their teaching staff in regard to the fences.
Tallulah Pollock, a first year Fallowfield resident studying Social Anthropology, commented on the university’s “lack of response” to the recent lockdown restrictions. For many of the students, it is not just the fences, but also the ‘poor’ pastoral care that has caused anxiety and uncertainty.
Pollock also said that on her first day of quarantine the university did not provide her flat with any food, despite paying for catered accommodation. Many other catered students have also expressed their dissatisfaction towards the food provided by the University during the pandemic, describing it as 'prison-like' food.
First year student Katy Hanson also commented on the lack of food deliveries given to the students during periods of isolation earlier in the term, which was only rectified after a series of complaints.
Manchester University faced a number of allegations earlier this term due to their response to the pandemic. The death of 19 year old student Finn Kitson raised concerns about mental health issues with students feeling trapped and not having enough access to support.
Kitson's father, a leading academic at the University of Cambridge, commented on his son’s “severe anxiety” during one of Fallowfield’s previous lockdowns, reiterating the link between COVID-19 and mental health issues and the need for increased support in universities.
Universities across the country have been dealing with the pandemic in various different ways but no other Halls of Residence have seen a reaction like the ones in Manchester. Many students have felt targeted since the commencement of the academic year.
Although the University has responded in an apologetic manner, many believe that restrictions upon students resulted in the death of a student and the response is “too little too late”.
Article by Immy Oliver-Beckett and Chloe Lewin
Featured Image: @Aliman357 via Twitter