In the beginning we were first year students, away from the comforts of home, attempting to settle in. In March 2020, Covid-19 sent us into a national lockdown. We had moved beyond the ordinary stresses of being a university student and entered the realm of a global pandemic. Some of us managed, while others struggled. This is for the students who struggled.
A close friend of mine who inspired me to write this article described this time as ‘everybody else seems to be able to adapt and carry on.’ She described watching other students around her continuing to keep up with their studies, while she was mentally shutting down, aware of the things she needed to do but with her brain and body disallowing her to do them. With a slipping attendance, missed deadlines and missed extensions, she struggled to talk to the university about how she was falling behind.
I asked her how she felt when she discovered that she would need to resit her second year of university for the first time. She told me that at that point she had already accepted it. She was relieved to have finally made the decision to resit. But with the hope that she would return to university, repeat the year, and everything would be fine, she wasn’t looking into the deeper reasons behind why she was struggling with her mental health.
Afraid to open up to her family or friends, she didn’t inform them about how bad things had gotten. She didn’t realise that when she was finally able to explain the situation to her parents, their response would be supportive. When it came to her housemates, it took longer to explain the situation. They had done well academically and were on track for their undergraduate degrees. It took a long time for her to not feel ashamed, like she was an imposter in an academic environment. She emphasised how isolating it is to be a resitting student. With her friends graduating and moving forward with their lives, she found herself introduced to a new year group as the stranger in the room.
Unfortunately, during her resit, things began to slowly unravel again. An hour-long meeting was organised with her head of year, academic advisor, and the wellbeing service, and became an academic intervention that provided an overview of her outstanding and upcoming deadlines. She was proposed with two options: to progress or to resit again. Later, she reflected on how no one from the university ever advised her to take a break from her studies. The path that led away from university was never encouraged as an option. No one prompted the question, ‘do you want to stop?’
Resitting for the second time, she feels as though she’s been provided with more support – perhaps due to the university taking students’ mental health more seriously. But she emphasised how ‘sometimes it feels like something big and drastic has to happen to you in order for you to receive the support.’ First, you have to fall through the cracks.
Asking if she was happy to have resat, she admitted that of course she would have wanted to have done better, but going through the process of resitting, she’s learnt so much and she’s still learning. She’s in a place where she can talk to other people about it now, and no longer feels alone. Asking her what advice she would give to someone who was thinking about resitting, she vocalised how ‘if you know you’re at the stage of thinking about resitting, it’s okay to explore that. Most of all, it’s okay if you’re resitting and you’re still struggling with the issues that led to you needing to resit in the first place. While your issues might initially ease themselves, it’s very much like weeds. If you don’t pull the roots out, they’re still going to grow.’