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Freshers’ Planning in a Pandemic

By Zaynab Sarguroh

The words ‘pandemic’ and ‘pandemonium’ are, in essence, almost synonymous. Both have the same English root (‘pan’, i.e. all) and similar Greek roots (‘dēmos’ i.e. ‘people’ and ‘daimōn’ i.e. ‘demon’). Both connotate widespread chaos and uncertainty. They describe a period of time which is unprecedented to begin with and unpredictable to end with.

In stark contrast, the verb ‘to plan’ is at cross purposes with the state of affairs which is encompassed in a pandemic, or a pandemonium. When we plan, we feed on certainty, fixed points by which we organise our affairs by. Yet these ‘fixed points’ have always been things we have taken for granted, assumed as, well, fixed. They are by definition, unchanging an unwavering; though our plan may change, the pillar around which we organise it remains standing.

What the pandemic has effectively done, from my perspective – that of a meticulous planner, by nature and title – is tear down these ‘fixed points’ of reference in our lives. I can no longer negotiate for club tickets because, well, the club no longer exists. I cannot decide how to pick a 2nd team for university squash because our courts have effectively disappeared. And of course, the ceilidhs, the college parties, the numerous events which I had so scrupulously planned for a Freshers' Week which I had vividly envisioned in my mind back in March have vanished.

Now is probably a good time to introduce myself. I am a second-year law student, but more significantly for this blog post, a college Freshers’ Representative. Husting for this position in Michaelmas was almost a personal obligation; I am by nature social and outgoing but, above all, a fastidious planner. I think in lists, schedule in timetables and organise by alphabet, colour and subject. It is almost a personality trait. When I took up the position of ‘Frep’ I was excited by the prospect of leading a sub-committee, planning a week worth of events and creating 150+ page freshers’ packs. I timetabled and scheduled, set deadlines for myself and my committee. I was organised and had thought of everything, well, almost.

Of course, I in no way blame myself for the effect of the pandemic on freshers’ planning; however, the escalation of the global situation reminded me of the irony of planning. We plan in a pretentious fashion. Right until a few days before the lockdown in Britain, I still, naively, assumed everything would go as I planned, leaving no space for chance, fate, destiny or whatever you may call the actual unpredictability of the future.

Nevertheless, as humans famously do, I have adapted. In essence, the events planning my sub-committee and I are undertaking are flexible. Events are not planned in isolation, but rather each event is moulded around multiple predictions of what the week beginning the 5th of October may look like. It’s no longer a static solid image, but a fluid, changeable one. I am no longer trying to force the future into my pre-moulded plans but adapting my plans to whatever the future may hold.

It would be dishonest of me to assert that planning for Freshers’ Week hasn’t been stressful or daunting. Naturally, I worry about the logistics of the event, the enjoyability of them and of course the comfort of the freshers’ whose first week at Oxford is by enlarge decided by me. Although the pandemic may have taken away whatever we deemed ‘normal’ in the past, it has replaced a narrow mind with an open one, an orthodox one, with a highly creative one that, by circumstance, has become a problem-solver and a contingent planner. It has also opened the floor to cross-college discussions, ideas flowing between Freshers’ Reps across the uni as well as inter-college collaborations. In the face of unpredictability, we, particularly within my college JCR, have banded together as our issues stem from the same source. This is something seen globally: communities coming together in the face of adversity

The Freshers’ Week I had planned in my mind back in March may seem outrageous and out of touch with today’s reality, and I do not claim that the next few months will be easy but, in making the best of an unprecedented situation, I very much intend to give my freshers’ the best 0th week possible, not by ‘planning’ in a pandemic, but by adapting to it.


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