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COVID-19: How are students being represented in the media? 

As the government changes regulations again, recent media coverage has been focused on students throughout the country, often painting students as the problem for rising infection rates. Our Features Head Correspondent Thomas discusses the efforts of QM students and others in the UK on what they are doing to stop the spread, and help the community in the process.

University students have been presented as part of the problem with the current health crisis. 

From students being fined for flat parties to high-rising coronavirus cases, the rise of infection in the UK has not had any significant change. But beneath the surface of this, many efforts have been made by students to help combat this pandemic. 

Students who have been volunteering for helpline support, raising funds for the most vulnerable in society, or even donating essential items to local food banks. We should therefore stop to celebrate the efforts of students who are working tirelessly themselves to help others during this difficult period. 

On 10th September 2020, some Queen Mary students helped to organise an online auction to raise money for the charities impacted by COVID-19. 

The increased demand to provide for the vulnerable, coupled with the financial impacts of the pandemic, has made it increasingly difficult for charities to provide their services – they are said to have “received 29% less income than they had budgeted for”. So whilst helping them to keep their apprenticeships going, this auction also helped to support the charities involved, targeting BAME community charities in particular.

These students could have easily sat back and blamed the virus for ruining their degree. Instead, the student apprentices showed, as Queen Mary’s Sarah Bryran says, “real tenacity, dedication, creativity and willingness to learn in order to launch this charity auction and give back to society”.

Outside of Queen Mary, students at Sheffield Hallam are said to have spent 41,000 hours helping their community through volunteering. More than 1,600 students gave up their time to help, such as raising money for the vulnerable and those on the frontline, volunteer telephone schemes to support those self-isolating, as well as volunteering groups that held events to raise money.

For example, the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) group at the university organised a virtual marathon where they would run, walk or cycle it themselves and ended up raising £320 for charities as a result. Students here had set aside their time for the sole purpose of helping people that need support.

At the University of Central Lancashire, students have volunteered as ‘Campus Safety Champions’. This involves giving students and staff guidance in ensuring a COVID-secure environment, from wearing face masks to offering directions to hand sanitisation points. The efforts of these students volunteering have helped in creating a positive and safe atmosphere within the university and outside. 

So whilst this media narrative of students being ‘superspreaders’ of the virus continues in this pandemic, it is just as important to pay attention to the other side of the coin the media neglects to show us all and reflect upon the sheer efforts of students who have made the most out of nothing and have taken a considerable amount of responsibility to take care of the community.

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