For many of us students, this term will happen from home and from behind our screens. In most cases, this means less social interaction, which has left all of us with more time to spend on binging Netflix’s recent releases (Lupin, Bridgerton, or The Crown’s last season, depending on your persuasion), or on Instagram, getting fed up after seeing thousands of Bernie Sanders in just as many different places. As well as the Netflixing and Instagramming, though, many students have also used this time to take action on issues close to their hearts.
Larissa Koerber, a first year Law student at Oxford, is one of these students. Throughout the pandemic, she has significantly developed her Instagram account, @Sheisthehero. She first created this account during her gap year, with the ambition of showcasing interviews with inspiring women, both from her home country of Switzerland and from abroad. Amongst her chosen personalities are entrepreneurs, designers, chocolatiers, and politicians – content includes inspirational writing, stylish graphics, and a regular ‘hero of the day’. Finding that her visits for interviews were no longer possible due to Covid-19, Larissa used her time to develop all sorts of merchandise, which now supports her platform financially and spreads awareness of the project. The page is still going strong; Koerber continues to champion women who have shaped their worlds in diverse and fascinating ways.
Some students have managed to take advantage of the fact that everyone is stuck at home and unite their strengths; this is the case of Declan Peters, Tarun Odedra and James Appiah, all three state-schooled, and now freshers at Oxford, Durham and Cambridge respectively. Together, they are running a series of podcasts on Spotify called Tomorrow’s Story, where they discuss societal, political and cultural issues with prominent guests. In their first few podcasts, they have tackled difficult topics such as knife crime in London, Trump’s presidential pardons, and Covid-positive grants. Their initiative targets young people, encouraging them to engage with themselves and the world they live in – as Declan Peters puts it: “Tomorrow’s Story was an opportunity for us to kick-start the kind of thinking in young people that leads to success across numerous aspects of their lives moving forward. Our tag line, ‘Debate, Discover and Distribute’, emphasises the idea of elevating as part of a community – working together towards common goals.” The students are very happy with the impact they have made on their audience after only a few episodes: “the response so far has been really strong, and we receive messages every day from people who are forming opinions and becoming curious about the world that surrounds them”.
Upholding and elevating the next generation has also been the motivation of a colossal project uniting the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, The Oxbridge Launchpad. At its core is the desire to make these two universities more accessible, opening them up to pupils from less privileged backgrounds. The pandemic turned this ambition into reality, as one of their co-founders Vikram Mitra told me: “the pandemic was an enormous driver in our mission; the ‘A-level fiasco’ on results day 2020 brought to the fore the prejudices within our education system. Co-founder Kavi and I wanted to be part of the solution to this problem.” In order to achieve this, they have set up a free mentoring scheme between current Oxbridge students and prospective applicants. This concept has rapidly convinced many volunteering students as well as many ambitious sixth-formers, to Vikram’s delight: “the Oxbridge Launchpad team has grown rapidly – our mentoring team has expanded from just 30 to over 250 mentors from across Oxford and Cambridge since our launch. Most importantly it is our collective passion for access, alongside our insight into the application process, that drives our ability to make a social impact.”
These are just three examples from countless ways in which students in Oxford and across the country are making a difference, despite these very difficult times. The pandemic’s silver lining is the extra time it affords us to make our ideas into reality; I can only encourage any student who has a dream to go for it!
Artwork by Rachel Jung.