The blankness of the walls

Most afternoons you’d sooner find me in joggers at home than in a uni building. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

Sloth, though often the culprit, isn’t in this case. Witnesses can testify to the fact that, pre-pandemic, I was a (sugar) tax paying resident of the UB. I still have warm, fuzzy memories of my hands going numb from the cold while stood in the now extinct exam season pre-opening queue out front. Nostalgia is painful, as were my hands, but anyhow.

Things are quite different nowadays. To me, and seemingly to most students, home is still the primary setting of our study lives. Project groups still meet online when possible, and a good deal would rather wait for the recording than leave the house to attend an actual flesh and blood lecture. This, after nearly a year without any restrictions.

Sure, there are probably both pros and cons, but the glass certainly looks half empty to me. I can’t imagine that staying home is any good for learning outcomes, mental health or building social relationships. Those are three heavily interlinked aspects of the ‘academic community’ we’re so eager to stimulate.

To me, and seemingly to most students, home is still the primary setting of our study lives

You could argue that it’s all a result of stubborn pandemic inertia. That we’re not willing to sacrifice the comforts of the ingrained patterns of the last two years, even if it would benefit us. That might well be partly the case, but there’s more to it.

Personally, the quality of study spaces play at least a minor role. Colourless, often windowless lecture halls and clinical looking library tables under harsh white lights don’t exactly tease my academic palate. Let’s be honest, it’s no accident that the UG unfailingly picks the Academiegebouw instead of the Duisenberg for its social media.

While I am aware that there isn’t enough magic to transform every uni building into a neo-gothic set piece, I’m pretty sure the UG has more than enough boffinry in its pockets to spruce things up a little. Just enough to make the bike ride seem worthwhile. Inducing a sense of belonging wouldn’t hurt either. Minerva, with its painting-clad walls, is a prime example.

Places that charm and inspire are certain to draw a crowd. Creating more of them might just be what coaxes us out of our trusty musty hovels and back into the goodly light of scholarly civilisation.


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