What university looked like for the Class of Covid

time:2023-06-10 22:31:52source:Al Jazeera author:Press center7

When Harry Sweeney started his photography degree, in 2019, he assumed his camera roll would be full of gigs and nights out with friends from the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Instead, he kept a "visual diary" of life stuck in a student house during the pandemic.

Harry's cohort have spent all of their three undergraduate years grappling with the fallout from Covid-19.

Days before graduating, he reflects on what this looked like for him.

"We have had a completely unique university experience due to Covid-19," Harry says.

He stayed with his parents, in Essex, during the first national lockdown.

And when he returned to Bristol, in his second year, most of his work was done online, feet up on the coffee table, in a house he shared with friends.

"I probably went into uni a handful of times in second year," Harry says.

"We just spent lots and lots of time on this sofa in the living room, basically... we kind of just worked constantly in here in the kitchen."

With bars and clubs closed, the housemates used their imagination to replicate the nightlife they thought they were going to have.

"In second year, we had a pub crawl around the house," Harry says.

"We had a little kind of bar in each room - so we had a sports bar, my room was a jazz bar."

Trips to the supermarket were halted by bouts of Covid, Harry says, which became "routine".

"I can't remember how many times we had to isolate," he says.

"You'd be like, 'Let's go online and do some food shopping.'

"I think humans are quite good at just quite quickly adapting... you get into these routines of how to deal with stuff."

Then there were the do-it-yourself haircuts while salons were closed.

"That happened quite a lot," Harry says, gesturing at the photo of one housemate plastering dye on to another's hair.

"His was very, very yellow for a while.

"We walked past someone on the street and they shouted, 'You need more peroxide.'"

Harry remembers going on his phone at night and "seeing that every five posts would be about Covid".

"We were just being constantly bombarded," he says.

"This amount of information, like rules and stuff, being constantly in your face is very unhealthy really."

But working life continued for others outside of his student community during last year's lockdown.

"I was trying to, in a way, document the work that was considered key work and how it had to carry on," he says, "but we were based inside.

"There were definitely times when it felt, like, claustrophobic - especially if the house was messy.

"There was a real sense that what we were getting from the uni experience was not what we were paying for... but I feel the tutors did the best with what they had."

Despite the difficulties, Harry would not change his university experience.

"Even though a second year was strange, and it was a struggle at points, I was lucky enough to have great housemates," he says.

"I was so excited for the whole build up to [last] summer, knowing that we could go to clubs again.

"Honestly, it made you so much more appreciative of seeing your friends again. It made you more mindful in those moments."

Harry sees his photographs as "optimistic" but also an attempt to "communicate the feelings of alienation and anxiety many of us are having" after missing out on so much.

"I wanted to capture the mixture of the excitement of coming out of Covid but also how it has left its mark on us," he says, "the sense that we are being faced with the reality of adult life with what seems like less preparation than generations before us."

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