Enough is enough: Please stop judging students for returning to Cambridge

It’s Cambridge not judgementbridge: Students should not be unfairly scrutinised for returning to college

CW:// Discussions of mental health issues 

Living through a global pandemic while being a university student already comes with its own stress. The news that students would not be permitted to return to university unless they had adequate reasoning to do so, such as for mental health reasons or bad internet connection,  has put many students in a difficult position, leaving us to ponder:

To return or not to return?

Recently there has been influx of posts on Camfess about the feeling of being judged for returning to Cambridge. Whilst the majority of comments have been heartwarming and focused on reassuring students who need to return that they should make the best decisions for them, a few comments have been…. not so nice, with a whole load of judgement being placed on students returning, or considering returning, to Cambridge.

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(Photo Credits: Author’s screenshot from Camfess)

For myself (Thea), who has considered returning and knows of others who have returned, I can empathise with how stressful it is to consider returning to college. Not only do you have to take into account your own personal wellbeing, but account for the fact we are in a national lockdown and how your actions could affect members of our community.

The pressure of having to convince your college that your own personal reasons for return are valid is already daunting, and the fear that some of your peers could be critical of your return just adds another level of unnecessary stress that quite frankly none of us need or deserve. We both believe it is really important that students feel supported in whatever decision they choose to make. As far as these negative comments go, they need to be addressed.

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(Photo Credit: Author’s screenshot from Camfess)

Knowing that there are other students who are supportive of your decision without knowing the reasons why you need to return can relieve some of the stress you are already going through. The majority of comments on Camfess showing this support really did create a sense of student unity. 2021 has already thrown us some curve balls, but by showing continuous support (virtually of course) through these difficult times really can help someone feel more at ease when making these tough decisions.

Care not condemnation

In some ways, concern as to whether people are genuinely in need of returning to Cambridge is understandable. Students have been vilified in the media since September for mixing households, travelling between home and university addresses, and holding mass gatherings.  Some of the comments on Camfess or camfessions themselves which express concerns about students abusing the system that allows them to return are not entirely unfounded.

However, with the majority of students working from home and the restricted interaction the national lockdown has enforced, the probability of student mass gatherings are very slim. Students returning are doing so to protect their mental health, degree, or both – not because we’re expecting to have a raucous time. We *know* this isn’t a normal term – the atmosphere we had in Michaelmas will be nothing but a memory for students returning this term. But for some of us, we didn’t realistically have the option to stay at home – trust us, we didn’t return to our empty accommodations just for the thrill of it, after all. 

In terms of my own situation (Ella), I have been unable to return to college accommodation this term. Of course, it’s not the most fun thing in the world to see friends and peers return to Cambridge while I’m sat at my desk, at home, scrolling through Instagram. I really do wish that I could be walking down King’s Parade with my flat white from Pret. It is so easy to be jealous or have FOMO because some people are back for Lent term, but criticisms and judgement simply aren’t the way to go, especially as people returning have valid reasons to do so – whether or not you are aware of them.

Unnecessary criticisms of students returning can isolate them further and turn a decision that was meant to benefit them into one that causes anxiety. So let’s keep that sense of support and compassion for those returning to Cambridge

Disclosure isn’t easy (and not our place to demand)

According to a survey by Mind UK, over two-thirds of young adults felt that the lockdowns in March and November of 2020 served as significant risk factors in worsening their mental health. It follows, then, that lockdown 3.0 could yield similar results.

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(Photo Credits: Author’s screenshot from Camfess )

Mental health is something that can be difficult to disclose even to those close to us.  So why then should we expect students to disclose intimate details about their mental health to tutors and college staff – many of whom we have only had brief, five-minute conversations with at the start and end of term – let alone strangers from Camfess we’ve never met?

People may be uncomfortable explaining their reasons for returning for a range of reasons: from LGBT+ students who live in an uncomfortable home environment but may not be publically out, to fears that opening up about mental health issues will cause their college to recommend them to intermit, as it has done at one Cambridge college. We should respect these decisions, and not create an atmosphere where students have to be subject to invasive and intimate questions from total strangers on Camfess of all places.

We are not children anymore. We are students with the capacity to make our own, rational, thought-out decisions. If someone truly feels that their mental health would benefit from studying in Cambridge, then why can’t they be trusted to know what is best for them? Why should they be forced to reveal their personal situation to everyone who feels entitled to know? Can any of us truly judge what is best for another?

A cycle of guilt isn’t good for anyone

Psychologist Alisa Tsykhostky, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Sunderland University London, suggested feelings of “pandemic guilt” are particularly prevalent in student populations and can be caused by an increase in comparison to others (especially in how others treat the current guidance). Facing judgement for returning to accommodation for deeply personal reasons, could definitely perpetuate these feelings of guilt, which isn’t productive for anyone

(Credit: Author’s screenshot from Camfess)


To anyone who has made the decision to return to Cambridge, you have done the best thing for you and that is totally okay. To everyone else, this is a difficult time for all of us but in these *unprecedented times* let’s remember to act with compassion and care; trust your peers to make the best decision for themselves.

It is more important than ever that students are in solidarity with each other and that we all work together to create a supportive network, even if it has to be done virtually.

Feature image credits: Matilda Head

Related articles recommended by this author:

•  Lent term is online and Cambridge students are not happy

•  Overseas, high fees, and a lack of guarantees: We spoke to international students about online term

•  Someone needs to say it: Cambridge’s return policy has been utterly horrific

•  It’s time to stop pretending access problems disappear when students arrive at Cambridge