Written and edited by Mia Kinsey and Aisling O’Brien, Student Interns at Migrant Action
Migrant Action have collaborated with the University of Leeds to create a project ‘Structural Vulnerability & Migration: The Impact of COVID-19 on International Students at University of Leeds’ focusing on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had upon minoritized and racialised communities. The project was created by a team of University of Leeds students and has been informed by Migrant Action’s ‘fight for structural change’ and ‘commitment to empowering migrants’. The project so far consists of two issues; these issues are in the form of a ‘zine’, an electronic magazine that combines text and art to convey a message. The first issue is an introductory zine, introducing the team behind the project and establishing the project’s aims. The second issue then delves into these aims and discusses, with reference to the words of international students, the inequalities that have been faced by international students studying in Leeds during COVID-19 restrictions. The piece highlights from the outset that the inordinate impact of COVID-19 upon the wellbeing of international students in the UK is due to pre-existing inequalities; these inequalities were described to be caused by the processes of othering, discrimination and exclusion. is an ongoing piece of work, with an aim to raise awareness to and work against structural vulnerability.
This piece of work (Volume 1: Issue 2) is particularly significant as it is the first to have been created by the University of Leeds on this topic; this is a step in a promising direction for both publicising the experiences of international students and beginning to form some meaningful actions that can be taken by university officials. The work produced by the University of Leeds has been tied together with the creation of the platform VOIS, or ‘Voice of International Students’, which consists of a website presenting electronic zines and blog posts, and an Instagram account.
The piece highlights the underlying discourse that young people have been largely unaffected by the pandemic; this has been noticeable with the way in which younger generations have been depicted in the media, with stories of students breaking restrictions. Although this has happened on several occasions, the media fail to call attention to the many difficulties that students faced during this time, and the lasting impacts that these difficulties have had. The negative perception of students that the media has emphasised has undoubtedly disguised the profound impact that COVID-19 has had on students. As I previously mentioned, this piece of work aims to capture the way in which these impacts have been worsened for international students, exploring the structural inequalities that Migrant Action recognise and seek to unravel at the community level.
International students within the UK face several difficulties, regardless of unprecedented circumstances. Moving to the UK for many international students means adapting to unfamiliar areas, cultures and climate, sometimes with little to no support network. These types of networks were less available to international students during COVID-19, due to social restrictions. Those without a pre-existing network of friends within the UK, weren’t able to go out and make one, meaning that the online study based life felt quite lonely for many. However, these issues are not isolated to international students, but rather demonstrate institutional practices which white people benefit from, whilst marginalised groups face disadvantages.
Demotivation also seems to be one of the main issues that international students faced during the pandemic. The shift to online school has been difficult for many, whether this is due to difficulty understanding or engaging with lecture material. Within the study, many interviewees disclosed that, as an international student, they experienced feelings of culture shock, reducing their sense of belonging. This was exacerbated during the pandemic with the shift to online life, and with lockdown resulting in a lack of intercultural interaction, creating a greater sense of dislocation. The piece also highlights that the term international student itself can be seen as problematic. The classification of international students as a group separate to British students creates a divide, further reinforcing the binary between domestic and international students. This is a term that is used and emphasised by the university itself, highlighting the way that the university are not removed from this issue, but rather they are a part of it. On many occasions, interviewees highlighted feelings of abandonment with regards to the university and a lack of support during the pandemic.
The main aims of this work were to produce creative pieces that “reveal the dominant challenges as the first step in a gradual process of transformation”. The Zines produced as a contribution to the VOIS platform certainly meets this aim by telling the stories of international students through well-selected quotations, embedded amongst thought-provoking art and photography. The piece consistently reiterates that it does not seek to provide a mere retelling of students’ accounts, but to raise awareness of the structural inequalities that shape their experiences and provide a platform that can be utilised beyond this project to help combat these issues.
VOIS Zine Issue 2: https://indd.adobe.com/view/f2f35828-6260-4bfe-9626-c66aac157e81
VOIS Website: https://voisleeds.weebly.com