‘No one has looked after us properly’: Exeter Freshers on having to isolate in halls

One Fresher says she feels they’re being ‘locked up like criminals’

For first year students, moving to university is often one of the most exciting yet daunting experiences of their lives. Many students travel hundreds of miles away from home to move to a brand new city, where often they don’t know anyone.

Given the current circumstances, being a fresher this year is a completely different experience. There is no Freshers’ Week, minimal socialising with other students outside flats, and now, first year students are being trapped in university accommodation due to Covid-19 regulations, leaving many feeling on edge.

We spoke to Exeter freshers who are currently isolating in halls, to gather their experiences of what isolating in halls is like, and how the university is dealing with their situations:

‘We’re being locked up like criminals’

Speaking to The Exeter Tab, Emily* – a fresher who is staying in catered accommodation, told us her flat had been made to isolate after one of their flatmates tested positive for Covid-19. However, she informed us that the university had calculated their isolation dates wrong:

“The email got the dates of our isolation period wrong, meaning that we are being quarantined for 18 days instead of the government’s guideline of two weeks.”

The food being delivered to students in Emily’s accommodation consists of cold meals only, sometimes they are given left overs from dinner the night before for breakfast, and Emily says her dairy allergy was not acknowledged for three days. All students in the flat are only allowed in their own rooms, and none of them are allowed to leave their flat at all to go outside, which Emily described as feeling, “suffocated,” because they can’t even get fresh air.

“No one comes up to check on us. Occasionally we have Estate Patrol who come up to tell us off for leaving our rooms. We can’t even do our laundry because we can’t leave our flat. No one has looked after us properly.

“We all feel so criminalised for something we have no part in. Students are paying so much money to do online only learning, and now we’re being locked up in our rooms like criminals.

“Everyone who we have tried to contact about our situation simply tells us to go elsewhere, and often the lines are on hold so we can’t get through to anyone.

“We understand this is a very busy and stressful time, but I feel like the whole thing is just a shambles.”

‘We haven’t been offered any support at all’

Tom*, who has been isolating for nearly two weeks, told The Exeter Tab: “The uni haven’t provided any help. We’ve been isolating for nearly two weeks and we weren’t told anything.

“We had to ring so many different numbers to find out answers for things like if we could do laundry or get food deliveries, and nobody could tell us anything when they actually answered.

“We eventually found out we could collect food from outside, but it took them three days to tell us this.

“We haven’t been offered any support at all, the only email we’ve received was the one telling us to stay inside.”

‘Uni pastoral care didn’t care for us at all’

David* experienced a similar situation to many other isolating freshers, and told us: “Uni pastoral care didn’t care for us at all when we were in lockdown. I emailed about being tested myself and about lack of food and got no response.

“Food service wasn’t provided at all. We were recommended to either ask our friends to get us food or to get food delivered, which is difficult as all the slots are busy at the moment.”

‘I spent the first night sleeping on a bare mattress using my two scarves as my pillow and blanket’

International student Lily* spoke to us about her experience coming to Exeter and having to isolate as soon as she got here: “On the website they clearly stated that people who self isolate will be provided with everything they need for the kitchen and bedding – basically essentials to make it through the 2 weeks.

“Then surprise surprise, the day that I was arrive at I saw a Facebook comment under a random post saying that if you’re isolating in the room in which you’ll spend the rest of the year, they won’t provide any of those things!

“So, I spent the first night sleeping on a bare mattress using my 2 scarves as my pillow and my blanket.

“They do provide a delivery service but it is £210 for two weeks. I have a lot of intolerances and therefore wasn’t able to eat the food provided.

“In regard to wellbeing, I haven’t been contacted by the uni with any specific information. Just the general emails that everyone got. But I definitely found this whole experience very stressful, especially as an international student, as I came here on my own so I literally didn’t have anyone to help me get supplies or anything I needed.”

A spokesperson for the University of Exeter said: “The health and wellbeing of all our students is the our overriding priority, and the University is providing a wide range of support for students isolating including targeted online grocery deliveries, meals, activities, and wellbeing support.

“The University is continuing to adapt and enhance these services to ensure the needs of all our students, including those in self-isolation, are met. This includes expanding our resources and capacity to respond to student requests and concerns, including dietary requirements and any additional support.

“Wellbeing and Welfare teams are also available to provide assistance and support, both in person and online – the full range of support available can be accessed on the dedicated Wellbeing webpages.

“We recognise that this is a very challenging time for all our students and especially those in self-isolation.  If any students have any specific concerns that they feel are not being addressed we would urge them to contact the University directly so that we can assist as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Self-isolating students should get extra mental health support, says Keir Starmer

• Exeter asks students not to socialise with anyone outside their household for 14 days

• ‘9k 4 What?’: Here are all the signs put up by students under forced lockdown in halls