Published: 04th May 2020
Post-COVID social spaces: What will campuses and corridors look like after the pandemic is over?
Saras Bhaskar, counselling psychologist and coach, weighs in on what campuses and corridors will look like in educational institutions in a post-COVID world. And will their be more security as well?
First and foremost, I would request students to honour social distancing and understand friendships/relationships do not get stronger only through physical proximities. Hopefully, colleges will introduce different timings for different classes, that way, large groups of students won't enter the campus together and violate social distancing norms. Mostly, educational institutions would give weightage to online classes and only for practicals or submissions will the students be asked to come in, that too in batches. When it comes to assemblies and prayers, in most colleges, they are conducted through the PA system in their respective classrooms. Now, with social distancing coming into the picture, other colleges may change their format. There is no way canteens will be closed. Hygiene will be enforced. The choice of snacks and meals might be reconsidered but I strongly doubt if they will deprive students of adrenaline-raising foods! For commercial and social responsibility purposes, they might be introduced to immunity-boosting foods. On a lighter note, sometimes, students attend college to catch up with friends in the canteen and having come, may attend classes too.
Will they have help?
Honestly, though maids and housekeeping staff are being discouraged to travel and work in places, there will be a divided opinion on students taking up the responsibility of keeping schools and colleges clean. The attitude of some parents would be that they pay their fees for the children to gain knowledge and so, are not indebted. Some other parents may welcome the idea because it does teach personal accountability and responsibility for the space they use wherever they are. When it comes to other staff, like security being beefed up to enforce social distancing more strictly, yes it is possible, but the sad part is, in reality, it needs to be the responsibility of each and every student to be mindful of the consequences of not following the spacing. By deploying security, if a college is enforcing responsibility through punitive measures, non-compliance and violations would increase. The management needs to place the ownership on students and promote positive behaviours. Also, hopefully, teachers do not become self-appointed disciplinarians and impose rigid rules. Students would be elated to return to campus more for meeting their peers.
Saras Bhaskar | (Pic: Saras Bhaskar)
Approaching staff or the principal's room will be restricted. But that does not mean they will not be available. They may have a specific time or they may be asked to leave their name and number at the register outside the department or the principal's room. They would return the calls to clarify queries. This system was there in the 1990s in the college I studied in Austin, Texas. With mutual availability, the students were handled with dignity. I believe the city colleges are already waking up to the need of taking care of students' psychological health. With my interactions in the rural areas, I find schools are proactive (focusing more on improving academic performance and behavioural issues) but colleges, both in the city and rural areas, are not as progressive.
It is important to educate and empower students, faculty and parents about the multidimensional growth that is simultaneously taking place and on how to handle them. Post-traumatic stress, generalised anxiety and relationship issues are major setbacks that can surface post-COVID-19. Does this mean counsellors will be involved in more decision-making meetings so that the mental health of children is given importance? Not really. But for a handful of academic institutions, most of them would not want counsellors/psychologists to be involved in more decision-making meetings. They would wish to utilise them to meet the governmental guidelines, to do damage control and to put out the fire. I may be bombarded with criticisms for saying this but if institutions are honest to introspect and take in an inventory, they would bring about positive changes.
(Saras Bhaskar, Founder, Professional Counseling Services (PCS) has a private practice in Chennai. She offers counselling services related to a variety of issues)
A few courses that could help:
Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19
University of Toronto via Coursera
Concentration and Focus: The Principles of Deep Work
The Opioid Epidemic
(As told to Seema Rajpal)