In this issue, the News Section seems fixated on Freshers’ Week in a time of COVID-19—from UCC’s own virtual Freshers’ and accompanying fines, to NUIG students’ viral flouting of health guidelines and how still, some students are left behind in the digital divide. It’s not an accident that so many of our stories this issue cover those annually deemed superficial, neither is it that this was a fortnight of ‘slow news’—if anything, it can be hard to keep up.
Freshers’ Weeks have been the brunt of backlash for a long time, acting as a microcosm of binge-drinking culture and antisocial behaviour, as well as an embattled talking point on phone-in radio. None of that changed this year, except for the existence of Freshers’ itself. Going digital should have meant less of the usual conflict, especially during a pandemic, when our actions are often more to protect others than to protect ourselves—aren’t we all in this together?
As you read through this months’ news section, pay attention to the language of those we write about, the lines drawn between sections of communities all as affected by the pandemic as each other. Has the shaming of Freshers’ this year become something beyond Freshers’, instead yet another exercise in deciding who is to blame for the spread of COVID-19? Or is blaming and shaming a necessary act in our attempt to again flatten the curve?
Maybe, there is another option. Maybe, we need to shake ourselves of our favourite scapegoats, and accept that ‘blame’ and ‘accountability’ are not the same thing. One is productive, one is divisive. One has the potential to mitigate the spread of the virus, and the other can alienate swathes of the population whose buy-in is as essential as our own in the return to normality.
A solidarity once so closely held during the banana bread, Normal People, Netflix Party portion of 2020, seems to be fracturing as the pandemic barrels into the winter darkness and threatens our Halloween, and Bank Holidays, and Christmas, and New Years’. And it is grim, of course it is. But descending into a national game of pin-the-tail-on-the-superspreader seems a lot worse.