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Life on campus as a Warwick University fresher in 2020

Trolley warriors, socially distanced clubbing, online lectures and more


2020. In a few years, those numbers will be nothing more than a way to flex your optical prowess over a friend who needs their reading glasses for texts. But to the university students across the UK who were freshers in 2020, just the mention of the year will flood their minds with stories – some scarring, some funny and some outright insane. I myself was a fresher in 2020 and with a lot of my friends graduating this year, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on our covid chronicles at Warwick. So grab your masks, six of your closest friends (and no more), your vaccine records and your money for fines and join me on this trip through time to Warwick University, in 2020.

Decorating the campus with trolleys

I’m sure most people are at least vaguely familiar with the ethical conundrum that is the trolley problem. The most common version has you choose between killing one person or a number (typically five) of people by switching the tracks of a runaway tram or trolley. However, as a 2020 fresher in Warwick, the only ethical conundrum that had to do with trolleys was how you planned on stealing them and where you intended on displaying them. For what I can only chalk up to quarantine-induced insanity, there was an unusual amount of trolley theft on campus. But this wasn’t necessarily for functional reasons.

No, trolley theft was considered an art form that was intended to be displayed as the freshers’ contributions to the already flourishing campus art scene. There were trolleys on trees, on basketball hoops and one trolley even took a note out of the Warwick Bucket List and went for a swim in Lakeside. Signs that dissuaded people from taking their trolleys past a certain point found their way into the hands of trolley thieves and were replaced by new double-bolted signs.

The Great Trolley Frenzy was documented by the Instagram page @trolleys_of_warwick who regularly advocated for the rights of the trolleys to not be captured by trolley security. Having a trolley craze sounds insane, but real camaraderie was forged amongst the freshers “rescuing” trolleys and I don’t think any fresher’s week in the years to come can recreate that sense of community.

The Great Trolley Frenzy was documented by the Instagram page @trolleys_of_warwick who regularly advocated for the rights of the trolleys to not be captured by trolley security. Having a trolley craze sounds insane, but real camaraderie was forged amongst the freshers “rescuing” trolleys and I don’t think any fresher’s week in the years to come can recreate that sense of community.

“The Six Pack” (not the physical attribute I’m incapable of developing), or the Rule of Six, was part of the rules introduced in the summer of 2020 as part of the Government’s Tier system for Covid. Under Tier 1 you could meet up with six people outdoors or indoors, but in Tiers 2 and 3, this was limited to only outdoors.

Early in the first term, the Tiers were low and spirits were high. To match the demands of students and the expectations of the government, clubs around the University came up with a compromise I doubt they had ever imagined they’d be implementing. Clubs like Kasbah and our very own Copper Rooms had socially distanced tables of six that could be booked out.

Unsurprisingly desperate freshers looking to immerse themselves in the uni teenage fantasy and returning students looking for a sense of normalcy within the chaos of the pandemic bought out all the tickets for the clubs offering tables. I wish I was there, but I have only heard legends of the Kasbah Halloween where everyone was sat at tables and chaperoned by bouncers like it was a Year 11 prom at a Catholic school.

 

 

Checking in to COVID Hotels

Arden, Radcliffe and Scarman. Why am I listing names off the “Top 100 Baby Names of the 1800s”? Aside from being the campus hotels named after big names in the university’s history, to the 2020 freshers these buildings were their refuge for the 2 weeks of their isolation. Flying in from a red zone or catching the deluxe version of Freshers’ Flu would have landed you in one of these covid hotels. But life wasn’t too bad in there. You were given free wifi, free breakfast, lunch and dinner, a TV, and if you’re really lucky even a tub. But don’t ask anyone about the food – they’ll tell you it tasted terrible. Not like they could taste anything, they all had Covid.

Warwick Secret wishing it was Gossip Girl

Warwick’s well-reputed for their Psychology department and students are allowed to regularly participate in some of the studies the department runs. What I suspect was a covert longitudinal study was putting a bunch of uni students in Rootes until they caught cabin fever (ideally not any other fever) and observed what happened next. Much to no one’s surprise this resulted in the creation of a Warwick “Confessions” page. Almost its own kind of psychological study (or torture, with some posts the terms were interchangeable), the confessions page ran for almost the entirety of 2020/21 academic year.

People confessed their sins, complained about flatcest, shared wild experiences at Claire’s, exposed group chats, discussed politics (mainly the economic divide between Cryfield standard and townhouses) and even called attention to some of the campus’ favourite characters. These individuals came to be known as the Warwick BNOCs. I’m not planning on expanding on the term BNOC but let’s just say I’m somewhere between cringed and nostalgic for when we had them running around.

From Art Girl to Leather Jacket Guy, and even the serial roof puncher in Rootes – people loved treating the BNOCs like celebrities and it entertained stir-crazy freshers when they’d spot the BNOCs around campus. Some BNOCs stayed humble with their newfound nano celebrity status but others…not so much.

Living the “New Normal”

Of course, Warwick wasn’t excluded from what was generally the “normal” at the time. As freshers, we hadn’t physically written an exam since mocks at A-level and writing in an exam hall was not an option with lockdown rules. After an initial test period with socially isolated seminars at the start of term 1 we’d eventually go completely online. The most deafening silences I’ve ever heard were in the window of time when a tutor had asked a question and was waiting for a response during an online seminar.

Flat mixing was considered a cardinal sin and depending on who your residential life tutor was (every accom was intimately familiar with their respective RLTs), a stray fresher in the wrong place at the wrong time could’ve been charged a £200 fine. When we weren’t being fined or attending lectures from our beds, we were taking mental health walks in the forests around campus or trying our best to find a socially distanced spot in the library. The latter was a privilege we eventually lost as cases nationwide rose towards the start of term 2.

If you were really going insane, you could’ve participated in some of the online events societies were putting on. For societies like quiz society, this wasn’t necessarily the worst endeavour but some of the sports societies were definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel with their “online CrossFit” sessions.

 

Three years later 2020 feels like a distant memory. There were concerns that Covid rules would last for years after 2020 and some of us even wondered if we’d ever experience a real uni life. Thankfully we had a decent return to normal and despite our rocky (to say the least) start, many of us have come a long way and are graduating soon. Despite the dark times that Covid was for a lot of us, we’ve at least got some interesting stories to tell our kids when it’s time for them to apply to uni. Although, if you were a Warwick BNOC, I’d probably just keep that to myself.

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