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Tuesday, 27 October 2020 |

Imagine what it's like to be a student today: a bit of leniency, if you please?

I can't hold it in any longer. I have to share this. I would like to give you an insight into the life of our students during this crisis. Because they don't get a voice in the media. That voice is reserved for rectors, politicians and virologists. After all, students drive the infections, don't take responsibility and are life-threatening for their parents and grandparents. Which student would have anything meaningful to say about this crisis?
Countless references have been made to WWII to point the finger at them and downplay their struggles, insecurities and fears. Because COVID-19 is nothing compared to what took place back then. This 'spoiled generation' only has to follow the measures without sacrificing any luxuries. There is a total lack of civic spirit.
And let's just take a moment to think about that term 'civic spirit'. No one is born with civic spirit. You learn civic spirit throughout your life, from childhood and through experience. Your upbringing at home and at school plays a vital role in that. Our students are taking their first steps towards independence and have the chance to make their own decisions. That is a significant milestone in a young person's development and necessary to build their civic spirit. Breaking rules and facing the consequences is part of that development.
Why are we so hard on young people who are trying to find their way in this crisis? Why do we expect 18-year-olds to skip every step in their further development and to keep their emotions in check at all times? Even before they can learn from their mistakes, they are reproached and written off as 'irresponsible youths'. And yes, unfortunately there are a minority of students who don't get it. But you will find that minority within all age groups.
We have empathy (and rightly so) for the elderly, the care providers, the teachers and the hospitality and events industry, because they are having a very difficult time and their well-being has been compromised. But students? We are just going to ignore them. After all, they have nothing to complain about. But who are we to judge that? People talk about the risks and consequences of loneliness, but empathy for the social issues faced by students would be a step too far.
Yet, that target group is highly vulnerable. Social contact is a basic need, especially for young people. You build a network for life during your student years. You are insecure, exploring, trying to find your footing and meet the expectations of everyone around you. You live in a complex world and being 'versatile' should be a basic skill. While everyone knows that change is always accompanied by resistance and a fear of the unknown.
What have we seen in recent weeks among 95% of our students? It's not as if they don't care about the crisis, on the contrary. They are preoccupied with it and are well aware of why the measures have been introduced. Do not underestimate them. Students are filled with questions about the coronavirus crisis and are confused by the ever-changing measures. They correct each other and express their concerns if they feel others are compromising safety. Some lie awake at night because of their studies and continually seek confirmation. They get tested with the slightest symptoms and with a positive result, they spontaneously follow the protocol that applies in the case of infection. They are transparent and understanding towards each other. In fact: the solidarity and compassion among the students is impressive. But there are also those who are already letting out a cry for help. A serious cry for help. And we really cannot ignore that.
I bet there are people who would now like to write a letter to share their negative experiences with students. Oh yes, they exist. And that's not okay. Not okay at all. But I do believe young people are a little ignorant and thoughtless. After all, they are at the start of their adult life and still have a lot to learn. I don't mean to minimise or justify their behaviour by that.
But I would like to call for some leniency. Let's guide them in what 'civic spirit' should be and acknowledge their struggles. How can we reach them better? Perhaps we should even give them a chance to speak on current affairs TV shows. They would at least get the chance to provide an insight into the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. We could initiate a dialogue and continue raising awareness with a positive approach. Across the generations. That would be a great move towards #togetheragainstcorona.
Nele Van Damme
CEO & Believer - Upgrade Estate