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The FSW POPcorner on caring student communities in difficult times

23 November 2023

In recent years, FSW students have regularly encountered troubled times. The outbreak of Covid19 led to far-reaching global measures that affected our daily lives and changed them in very many ways. Staying at home, keeping distance, dealing with the uncertainty about where it was all going... it was heavy going for many. We all tried to adapt as best we could, to continue our work and our studies (remotely), and to keep in touch with our networks through online channels. It was not easy, and many people suffered from this isolation. We experienced a sort of global culture shock: a sense of bewilderment, unease, disorientedness, and unsettledness that came from being exposed to an unfamiliar environment.

For most of us, the "new normal" we were living in didn't feel normal at all, but at the same time we came to wonder whether the "old normal" still fitted the "new us". Distance in the broader sense also provided space for reflection, for reappraisal, for opposing the status quo, and for developing new skills.

Protest and solidarity

The period during and after the lockdowns was marked by demonstrations: against racism, for equal rights; against the depletion of natural resources, for sustainability; against the lockdown measures, for freedoms. Moreover, in the past two years, natural disasters have struck and conflicts have broken out in various parts of the world, often all at once. Emotions may overwhelm us and frustrations can run high. This is not surprising, because the issues at stake are linked to aspects of identity: who we are as individuals, what we stand for, what our rights are, and how we can address existing structural injustices and the issues of climate change, for ourselves and for future generations.

Time and again, the student communities of the FSW have shown that they care: about each other and about all those directly affected by a conflict or natural disaster. They have shown initiative and made valuable contributions in various forms. In collaboration with the POPcorner, they have repeatedly organised actions such as collections, bake sale events, and panels.

Remaining open to one another

In all sorts of ways, we have been making the most of the opportunities that a period of uncertainty may provide to bring about structural change and, if we are open to it, collective growth… the vital condition indeed being that we are open to making positive use of the opportunities that this can afford. The danger of continuing to "oppose" is that discussions may become increasingly polarised and entrenched. It is

important to have an insight into where we differ from one another, so that we can recognise and acknowledge the diversity of our experiences and views. At the same time, in generalising and essentialising those defining characteristics, we may lose sight of all that we have in common, what unites us.

This common ground is essential for inclusion. Within the Leiden University community, the POPcorner is committed to precisely this: ensuring an inclusive learning and working environment where everyone can feel at home. This is also what is envisioned by the University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Work Plan. We are constantly thinking about the steps our organisation can take towards increasing dignity, respect, and a sense of belonging for all.

Supporting a caring community

We remain open to individual conversations and offer a listening ear and support for students who feel a need for belonging and togetherness and students who want to do something to help others. We support our students in finding their way within the Faculty and in their degree programme, involving students themselves as professionals in all the initiatives we develop.

For colleagues, we serve as a centre of expertise and a discussion partner with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the areas of bonding, dignity and respect, inclusion, well-being, and study success.

In short, the POPcorner FSW is of and for the community. We stand for connection, for open conversations, for listening to and learning from each other, for collective growth, and for community. Together we can ensure that we show solidarity in crisis situations and try to emerge the stronger from them. May the period to come be one of connection, collective growth, community, and caring! We cordially invite everyone to exchange views with us, and to enter into collaborations with us and with one another.

Talk about it

If there are things on your mind that you would like to talk about, of if you are looking for ideas about what you could do for the community, pop into the POPcorner during one of our open hours or contact us to make an appointment.

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