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Students turn to arts to rationalise pandemic

Writes Maeve McTaggart, News Editor

Covid-19 restrictions have removed students from UCC campus for what will be a year on March 12th, constraining college life to the virtual space of Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls. As the pandemic continues, what the long term effects will be on students and the population as a whole remains unknown. In an effort to capture the experience of living through unprecedented times, student societies have launched a number of initiatives to express and explore the reality of living and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Campus Narrative, a publication launched by the Journalism Society to document “University Life in the Time of Covid-19” is currently taking submissions of diary entries, poetry, articles, fiction and artworks to create a body of work which allows the years of the pandemic to be recorded in students’ own words. “We hope that Campus Narrative will be a place for students to look back on their experience of student life during the pandemic,” says Mia Poland, society chairperson.

Across the university, students have been founding specialised publications to showcase and document their interests and experiences while at university. UCC Government and Politics society are currently developing the second issue of their student-run political journal Polity, aiming to offer a platform for students to express their views, opinions and analysis on major global issues through essays and academic articles. “Collectively, we are living through one of the most trying and politicised times in modern memory,” Polity Editor Rhian O’Sullivan says, “and we want to hear what [students] have got to say about it.”

In line with this trend, UCC Fashion Society’s recently published the impressive fashion magazine STÍL. “College is an experience that for many of us, sets the foundation of who we become next,” Maeve O’Sullivan says, “The purpose of STÍL was to have something to be enjoyed in the now but also something that students could carry forward with them.” The magazine relies heavily on the work of local artists to populate the pages, unable to engage in photoshoots due to COVID-19 restrictions and repeated lockdown measures.

UCC Fáilte Refugees established Aistear, a publication to feature work from members of the Refugee, Migrant and Asylum Seeker communities. “As the Irish word for ‘journey’, we hope Aistear will give a place for people to share what they want to share, and say what they want to say – no brief, just an open platform,” Fáilte tells University Express.

Sonder, a literary zine created by UCC students, overcame the problems posed by COVID-19 says editor Lara Ní Chuirrin: “The entire project was put on hold when lock down happened in March 2020. However, [after lockdown] I think we were all ready to write again, and wanted to create something new amidst the tedium and strangeness of lockdown.”

The new publications join their older counterparts in the University Express, Motley Magazine and The Quarryman – a student-run literary journal published by UCC English Society. “I put my whole heart into it last year and I spent hours and hours working on it every single week,” Joy shares, “I was so proud of what we achieved.” The numbers of submissions to student publications such as The Quarryman continues to increase year on year, despite the impact of the pandemic.

Of recurring themes which appear in submissions from students, staff and alum, it is love and grief which appear most often to occupy the prose and poetry of The Quarryman. While the pandemic will inevitably affect the practical considerations of publishing this year, it will also affect what people are drawn to write about and express. “Life does come at us with these impossible experiences and writing is a great way to deal with them… I think the theme this year will be a lot of love that has nowhere to go [and] is looking for a place,” Joy explains, hopeful that it will find and fill the page.