Abby Spreadborough criticises the Guild’s recent handling of Coronavirus fears, as well as its promotional two VKs for £4 deal

Written by Abby Spreadborough
Images by Raw Pixel

Editor’s note: coronavirus statistics correct as of 20th Feb 2020.

‘A leading global university’ is how the University of Birmingham chooses to announce itself on its website, adverts and open days. Yet, you would be forgiven for thinking that the university, specifically the Guild of Students, is not as outward looking and as forward thinking as it seems to be. As the UK moved from the ‘contain’ phase to the ‘delay’ phase in coronavirus pandemic, AEO Ryan Ginger was delighted to announce that Guild event Fab would go ahead. In a cheery post he quoted Guild President Josh Williams in saying ‘forget the corona – it’s two VK ice’s for £4 at Fab, courtesy of the big man himself Mr AEO. My manifesto promised you more drinks deals at Joe’s Bar at this unprecedented time enjoy 2 ice VK for £4 or tropical j bomb for £2.’

At a global university which educates 8,700 international students from 150 countries, this kind of response is not only irresponsible but bewildering. Many of these international students will come from countries profoundly impacted by the pandemic.

This kind of response is not only irresponsible but bewildering

As it stands China is most affected with over 80,000 cases followed by Italy and Iran both with over 10,000 cases. There too has been a rise in coronavirus related hate crime specifically directed towards East Asian students, with one Singaporean student beaten up in London as his attackers yelled ‘I don’t want coronavirus in my country.’ Yet, international students are only one side of the story, students with underlying health conditions are also dismissed in the  statement. Students with asthma, diabetes and auto-immune diseases cannot ‘forget corona’, and to ask their peers to forget this looming threat to their health and wellbeing for the sake of some cheap drinks is arguably abhorrent. The fact these cheap drinks are a manifesto pledge fulfilled only adds insult to injury at what the AEO himself calls an ‘unprecedented time.’ In fact, it isn’t entirely correct to call the AEO’s VK deal cheap, one VK costs £2.85 meaning a minimal saving which led one student to call it ‘not worth getting coronavirus for.’ Others criticised the post in the comments with one asking ‘what happened to flattening the curve?’ and ‘UoB loves a danger fab, but this aint it.’ When the Guild chooses to publicly adopt a tone gleeful abandon as they have done in this instance I believe they cease to be able to call themselves the voice of students. 

Elsewhere across the country universities and their student unions have been quick to respond. Durham, LSE, Manchester Metropolitan and Southampton are just a few of the many universities that have taken the decision to shut before the end of term. Similar to US universities, these institutions have chosen to adopt remote online learning. UoB is due to do the same after announcing a transitional week to ready departments for this switch to online teaching. During this final week no students are obliged to attend and have been urged to follow government advice to self-isolate if they have a fever or cough. This advice has been criticised by some, but I feel it is a measured, responsible and appropriate response to the developing situation. I only wish the Guild had adopted the same approach. 

Before the government’s recent crackdown on ‘mass gatherings’ on Monday, it would have been find to allow Fab to go ahead and expect fewer students to attend given the justifiable wariness of many. Keeping calm (and informed) and carrying on (within government guidelines) as young, healthy individuals at a time of panic buying is to be desired. But as our routines adjust, we need to cut back on inessential contact with crowds which Fab and events like it offer.

For the Guild, a simple announcement to confirm that Fab was going ahead, without the needless, thoughtless and frankly exploitative mention of a frivolous drinks deal, would have sufficed. Ryan Ginger told Redbrick ‘In hindsight the post was not appropriate considering the rapidly-changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19. I apologised for any upset caused by this. The Guild and the Guild officer team this week have been working hard with student safety the priority.

Guild events are all cancelled including Guild Awards, club nights and more with refunds available and more with full refunds available. We are working with student groups to support them to cancel events.

The advice is for students to not feel obliged to remain on campus. Despite any concerns over the weekend, myself and the officer team are there to support and represent you so please, I implore you to get in contact with us.’