Your College Aunts Week Three: Life During COVID

You know it’s a tense time when you’ve got the porters on speed dial

Well, week 3 has been fun. Homerton freshers got locked up, Downing is on PHE watchlist, and some naughty Selwyners had an illegal party. The weather has also taken a turn, so maybe it’s the end of times. Or maybe it’s just October and students are being students. You decide. Anyway, let’s lighten the mood and get on to this week’s questions which follow the theme of ‘The New Normal’ and how we are all adapting (or not adapting) to life at uni during COVID. To submit your own questions (anonymously), all you need to do is click here.

Q1: At what point is it fair to Porter someone for breaking Covid guidelines? I’m not a saint, I’ve been to see friends in other accommodation, but I see people in my year doing genuinely dangerous stuff.

Oh Cambridge, how I love you with your big boarding school vibes. Look, this is an incredibly tough question, because unlike an annoying neighbour having loud night-time cuddles, as we discussed last week, the behaviour you’re witnessing could have serious impacts for you, aka getting locked down with your household, or getting the virus yourself. That said, dobbing someone in with the porters might also have serious impacts for you too.

The current atmosphere in colleges is tense, and contributing to this further isn’t always the best idea. I feel sad at the prospect of dwindling trust within the student body, and that college no longer feels homely for many because we are now in a situation where authority figures can control our life as if we are kids at school. Please in all circumstances talk to them, or take other initial steps before portering someone. They are a student just like you, with feelings and an ability to be reasonable. HAVE A DIALOGUE. Just because someone isn’t your BFF, doesn’t mean you can’t have a reasonable chat.

A measured approach is needed. As you’ve said yourself, you aren’t a saint and have slightly bent the rules. Look at the situations in hand that you want to porter someone for. Is it someone having a friend over for coffee, despite your college having a no visitors policy? Yes it is against college guidance but a) you weren’t in the room so couldn’t see how Covid-secure they were being and b) you have no idea about the mental health of this person and how important it might be for them to see this friend. Also if it isn’t going on in a communal space, it is much less likely to be a danger to your health (probably, look I’m not a medic, don’t sue me, I’m reading the same confusing government guidelines as you).

On the other hand, is it a party of 50 going on in your staircase with people you think go to other colleges? This isn’t just breaking college guidelines, it is actually illegal, so the shades of grey aren’t so varied here.

Essentially, don’t go portering people left, right and centre, but when things start to get illegal or you feel your health is genuinely guaranteed to be at risk because of something someone is doing, you can invoke the power of the porter.

Q2: (Anon’s college) are being very strict about not mixing between households and I’m getting quite close with one of the friends I live with. Feels like its not a good idea but also kind of inevitable cause of no meeting people. Any advice?

We discussed the issue of the accommodation ‘romance’ in our first podcast so definitely give it a listen. However, the key point is that your brain will trick you into ‘fancying them’, regardless of your true feelings, due to proximity and the fact you see them in a homely and intimate setting.

So find a way to look at the situation from a logical and big picture perspective. Objectively speaking, do you find them attractive? If you weren’t living together would you really be this interested in them and want to spend as much time with them? Do you have a lot in common outside of living together?

Possibly also get some home friends’ advice on this. They know you from a different period of time and have a certain perspective on you. If they think your feelings sound a little odd and possibly Stockholm syndrome-esque then maybe get the perspective to realise you have a proximity crush.

If not, you can always give it a go, but again, we outline some reasons why you should tread with caution on this front in the podcast.

Q3: I’ve recently realised that I’m non-binary and I know all of my friends would be accepting but I still feel strange about ‘coming-out’ to people who have always known me as being cis and I’m not sure how to handle this.

We discussed coming out in last week’s column, and I think that although this situation differs in the sense that the group you are with are accepting, a lot of the same advice still stands. Ultimately, no one can tell you how to navigate your own gender identity and you have always got to do what you believe is best for you. I’d also like to remind you that you are almost definitely not alone in this ‘strange’ feeling surrounding coming out, and that many have experienced it before you and many will also experience it after you. Before I dive into more specific advice, if there is anyone you know who has come out previously, and you would feel comfortable speaking to them, asking them about their experience could be really helpful, even if it just reminds you of the fact that you’re not alone.

That being said, coming out is never an easy thing to do, nor is it a singular moment- in fact, its more of a process. Yes, it may take people time to adjust to your new pronouns, and it may even take you time to adjust to being out, but I think that most people who have come out in accepting environments usually find it to be a liberating process. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but if you put the situation into perspective, you may realise that in the long-term, being out as your true self among your close friends could make you happier.

Here, I think it’s important to emphasise the importance of communication. If you do decide to come out to your friends then it is also perfectly valid to communicate the worries you have had surrounding coming out. Your friends won’t be able to fully support you if they don’t know the realities of how you are feeling. That being said, sometimes your friends may not be able to help as they may not necessarily understand your situation to its full extent, so if you are struggling at any stage, remember to reach out for help. Whether it be your JCR LGBT or Gender Equalities/Womens’ and NB Officers or the uni counselling service, remember that there are people out there to help you and even talk through your situation with you. I’m trying my best to do this here, but I do understand that an actual conversation can sometimes be more helpful.  The way you currently feel is both perfectly valid and normal and I’m sure you have it in you to navigate the situation to the best of your ability, and hopefully, you will find yourself better off for it.

Q4: I find it very difficult to socialise and with all these corona rules, it’s even harder to talk to people and get to know them. But I also feel ridiculously inferior to everyone, almost to the point it feels like I don’t deserve to be here. Any advice would be appreciated. Keep up the great work! From a fresher.

The difficulty of socialising during these tense times is a topic that Your College Aunts discussed in the second episode of the podcast which is out on Thursday, so be sure to also give that a listen.

I’m going to start with your feelings of inferiority, perhaps better known as imposter syndrome. You have to remember the fact that you deserve to be here. Despite what others may say to you, or even what the voice in your head may be saying to you, you are here because you deserve to be and no one can take that away from you. If you allow your feelings of inferiority to dominate your life then they may start to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As usual, challenging these feelings is certainly easier said than done, but this does not mean that it shouldn’t be done: if you don’t challenge these feelings, no one else, apart from maybe me, is going to do it for you. Not to be constantly plugging the podcast, but Your College Aunts actually discussed navigating imposter syndrome in Episode One of the podcast, and I think it’s definitely worth a listen.

Now onto the specifics of socialising. Firstly, it’s important to remember that pretty much all the freshers at the moment are probably feeling exactly the same as you and this can work in your favour. Being a fresher generally gives you the ability to reach out to people that you don’t know that well without it seeming ‘strange’ – not that you should really care about what people think, but that’s for a whole different question. Sometimes you have to make the first move when it comes to hanging out with people and that is perfectly okay. Pride shouldn’t be influencing your decisions when you’re trying to make friends and get to know new people. Your household is a great (legal) place to start when it comes to socialising but there are obviously other people you can get to know too.

Other great ways of meeting people are through societies or sports teams. Go to some virtual events, go to some in-person events, try out a sport you’re not that good at in the comfort of your college… there are so many things you can still do to meet people if you just keep your mind open and put yourself out there a bit. This may be out of your comfort zone, but it will ultimately be beneficial, both in actually enabling you to meet new people but also in terms of your personal growth. Try your best to throw your self-doubt aside, fake some confidence (fake-it-till-you-make-it style) and be receptive to those around you – you deserve friends but you won’t make any unless you try.

Q5: The year above me in college seem extremely toxic and cliquey. To be honest, I’m relieved that covid means we don’t have to interact with them all that much, but when I do I am often expected to ‘pick a side’ in feuds that happened between people I barely know when I wasn’t even here. My college is on the outskirts of Cambridge so we are pretty isolated from others, which I think probably contributes to the very small-minded secondary-school bitchy vibe. How do I navigate this?

The only way to navigate this situation is to stay true to yourself and not submit to the toxic social pressures surrounding you. It’s probably for the best that covid has prevented immediate integration between your year and the year above and you should use this to your advantage. Try to make genuine connections with the people in your year that aren’t based on the premise of creating an exclusive clique, but rather on who you actually get along with and have stuff in common with. It’s okay to belong to multiple groups or to not belong to any groups at all, as the desire to belong to groups in this sense doesn’t originate from within – it comes as the result of social pressures from your environment. From two people who go to a college that is considered to largely keep to itself, we would recommend making connections with people not at your college where possible. Cambridge is already a bubble as it is, so you really don’t need to shrink your bubble down further to the confines of your college walls. Covid may make the prospect of branching out of college appear more difficult, but as I said in question 4, there are still plenty of ways you can branch out.

With regard to the drama, I want to remind you that you don’t owe anyone anything and you should not be expected to ‘pick a side’ in drama that you have no stake in and you should be able to express this to anyone pressuring you to do so. This is not a reality TV show where you need to play a part to keep the storyline interesting – this is a university full of adults who are ultimately here to get an education whilst attempting to have a social life. As toxic or immature as your environment may feel, so long as you do not bow to it and follow your own path you should be just fine – and probably happier than those tied up in ‘cliques’. If you don’t like the vibe of the year above there is no obligation to be friends with or interact with them beyond a certain point, but I would say that the likelihood is that it’s not the whole year group that is cliquey, but perhaps only the subset that you have come into contact with. Try to still be open and understand that what you have heard about people from others isn’t necessarily true and that ultimately you should make your own judgements and give people a chance. College environments are often conducive to a return to the ‘small-minded secondary-school bitchy vibes’ but fundamentally, you are in control of your own experience and the way in which you behave will impact others too, which is something you should be aware of as you try to navigate this dynamic.


Well, that’s all from us this week…

If you haven’t already listened to our podcast, what are you doing?

Want some Freshers and Refreshers content? Take a look at last week’s column.


Your College Aunts x

Have any worries?

Here is the link for next week, submit to your heart’s content.