January: The Worst Month of the Year?

They say January is the worst month of the year.

The short, cold days, hemmed in by seemingly unending nights. The inevitable deflation after the excitement of the holidays. The feeling of summer being an eternity away. The start of a new semester and a new set of assessments to worry about. Who knows the real reason? Whatever it is, January has a reputation for being unyielding and depressing. January 2021 was a particularly brutal one. 

I spent the first week of the year snowed in. My draft dissertation deadline looming over my head as snow fell in soft flurries outside my childhood bedroom. I spent most nights staring at the ceiling, wondering how I was supposed to finish my dissertation without access to the books in the library. How would I even begin to tackle the semester ahead? Are my grades going to be impacted by all these sleepless nights spent staring at the ceiling?

I had spent the past six months hearing about how and my fellow students, and I were selfish. How we deserved to be locked up. Somehow, we were responsible for the rise in cases that Winter. I had expected the University to stand up, defend us, maybe give us a leg up towards better times in the Spring. That defence never came. The policies which could help us never came. All we got were disingenuous pithy emails about ‘looking after our mental health’. I was tired. 

I finally snapped. I’d had enough. I did what any self-respecting Gen Z does in a crisis: I messaged the group chat. An open letter to the head of the Politics Department asking for a dissertation extension was drafted on Google Docs. Our demands were met surprisingly quickly, and we had an extension by the end of the month.

Bolstered by this win, a change.org petition was started to re-introduce the ‘No detriment’ policy across all courses. In one week, over 5,000 signatures, an interview in The Tab, two separate news articles and an inbox flooded with DMs from students. I felt confident. I had taken on the source of my constant stress. Things would be okay. The University would at least consider the issues we faced and come up with a reasonable agreement. Right?

The reply never came. The University sent out a – rather panicked – statement that “adverse conditions” would be considered and that “the approach to 2021 assessment will be revealed soon”. I found out about that statement from a Glasgow Live news article. The University finally released the statement that we had dreaded: ‘No detriment’ policies would not be re-introduced for the 2021 assessment period. 

By this point, I was unsurprised. I had spent around two weeks frantically refreshing my emails, searching for any type of reprimand from some faceless senior staff member. Instead, I, and the thousands who signed the petition were met with silence. That stung. 

Students had reached out to thank me, to ask if they could reference my petition when starting similar campaigns. I still sometimes get DMs asking for advice on student campaigns. The wind was knocked out of my sails. I was disappointed, yet unsurprised. My time at university has been marked by countless disappointments, it seemed almost fitting to go out with one more. 

I handed in my final exam from my childhood bedroom two weeks ago. In normal circumstances, I would have gone to the pub with friends and classmates. Maybe we would have laughed, maybe we would have planned our graduation outfits and talked about our post-graduation plans. Maybe we would have reminisced on those last semesters of normal classes, of normal exams, of normal internships, networking opportunities, just normal University. Instead, I laid down on my bed and stared at the ceiling again, wondering if I had done enough. 

[Luisa Barclay – she/her – @luisabarclay]

[Photo credits: Joel Goodman]

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