One of the things for which our campus is often praised is its sense of community. During this time of social isolation, it can seem as though this community is starting to dissolve around us, leaving many people feeling vulnerable, alone and disconnected. Precisely to address this, Chris Hall, the Guild’s Education Vice President asked our equity officers some questions about how they were going (following all social distancing suggestions, of course).
We’ve gathered all the answers here for you, to know you’re not alone in the struggle against self-isolation and online learning. You have a community fighting beside you, and leading part of that community are our equity officers:
- Accessibility Officer – Dylan Botica (He/Him)
- Queer Officer – Bry Jagoe (They/Them)
- Women’s Officer – Star Castillo (She/her)
1 . While social distancing is critical to halting the spread of COVID-19, it’s safe to say this is the first time many of us have ever had to grapple with something like this. How are you handling the shift online, especially regarding online learning?
Dylan: Online learning has never been ideal for me. I definitely rely on being in an environment where losing attention is harder than it is at home. I’ve had to defer a couple of times and withdraw from units. I made a commitment to not do this for this semester and it’s getting very hard to stick to that.
Bry: Throughout my entire high school life, the majority of my socialisation happened in online spaces… To say nothing of the many thousands of hours I’ve spent playing online videogames! While I’m glad I’ve spent so long honing my skills in digital literacy and online socialisation, that’s not to say that it isn’t going to be a really tough time… I’ve put together a QD Discord server, to make sure that our members have a space to keep talking to each other, checking in, sharing memes and pet photos, and having fun together.
A lot of people have messaged me to tell me how much it’s already been helping them out. I’m really looking forward to hosting more online events in the next few months, so everybody can have a chance to get online, hear somebody’s voice, and have a laugh for a few hours. I think it’s absolutely vital right now to keep up-to-date with our friends and peers, and check in to make sure they’re doing okay.
Star: The changes are challenging everyone to develop adaptability, which is a required skill for the future of work, in our ever-evolving world. I handled the shift to online learning by regularly checking my student email and blackboard announcements for updates from my UC’s. To adapt, I have noted my postponed assessment deadlines and weightings with allocated study hours on an excel spreadsheet for each unit to help me prioritise what is due next. To stay consistent, I use google calendars to help me stay on track of my study regime and participating in live tutorials by setting reminders on my phone 30 minutes early.
2. The term “Loneliness Epidemic” is going around quite a lot in response to COVID-19. How do you think your community is responding to societal change? Can you see a “loneliness epidemic” affecting your community more-so than dominant society and is there anything positive about these changes?
Dylan: Absolutely, especially for people who are immunocompromised, have chronic illnesses like asthma etc. This is a group often forgotten about, many are fully isolated and afraid. When all you’re exposed to is 24/7 news about this pandemic – anyone is bound to become afraid, especially if you already have reason to be fearful. We know that staying isolated, reducing activities, significant events, poor self-care are risk factors for poor mental health. We also know that engagement with friends is a significant protective factor. Both of these are seriously affecting my community. I can’t see much positive coming out of this.
Bry: I think there’s definitely a higher risk for the queer community to feel lonely while self-isolating. There’s also an increased risk of depression and anxiety, especially if they are forced to self-isolate with people who do not respect their identity or sexuality. In these situations, it’s more important than ever to have connections to friends; people who will respect their existence, identity and pronouns.
This is one of the main reasons why I put together the Queer Department Discord, so that people who were isolating in unsafe or stressful situations would still have the ability to reach out and talk to somebody…We’ve already seen a number of people on the server reaching out to each other in the last week, and while it breaks my heart to know that they’re going through such a rough time, it also makes me so damn happy to see our community banding together and supporting each other… This just goes to show that keeping our community together is the best way to keep us all safe.
Star: COVID-19 tells us that co-operation is key when dealing with a global public health crisis. Our community of female identifying Curtin students are responding by following government and university protocols to stay indoors. In the best interest of female students who feel unsafe or are personally disadvantaged to come on campus (using public transport to travel long distance from home or is a carer to family members), the shift to online learning can bring a positive change to their circumstances contributing to their safety and convenience. In other instances, the cancellation of our inclusive events affects the engagement experience with those who have a difficult time belonging and connecting on campus.
The Women’s Department is fully committed to supporting the safety for all and ensuring that our community can still provide a platform to belong and connect with each other, thus presenting an innovative solution to be socially connected online, as fundamental means to be together in solidarity of our shared humanity.
3. It is inevitable that things will return to somewhat the way they were, what would you like to see come out of the online shift?
Dylan: I think returning to how things were prior isn’t necessarily a good aim. Hopefully, it will make us reflect on how the environment people live in affects their ability to learn. I hope that the University focuses on the importance of expanding counselling & health services on campus. I hope it also shows how quickly we can move towards making important changes and use this towards making our education more accessible.
Bry: I think that even before the pandemic, a lot of members of our community already existed in a space both physically and digitally. While we’re seeing a rapid shift to the online social spaces, I hope that this doesn’t completely go away once social distancing measures are no longer in place. A lot of LGBTQIA+ people find it easier to socialise online, where they have control over their presentation, name, and pronouns, and more control over how and when they respond to a message.
This is especially true amongst the queer community, where many of us also suffer from social anxiety, and it can be quite intimidating to make new friends and interact in group situations. While the physical Queer Department space is a wonderful place to hang out with your friends and make new ones, I’m hoping that patronage of the QD’s Discord and other online spaces continues even after all of this is over, as it can be an extremely useful resource for many of us who struggle to socialise in real life.
Star: Collectively as a human race, I’d like to see strong hygienic practices continued and greater accountability in looking after the Earth take precedence. Isolation at home serves purposeful means to self-reflection and introspection. I’d like to see everyone at Curtin come out as a stronger community and apply deeper gratitude in our lives for surviving a global pandemic.
4. For people who aren’t members of your community, what insight can you provide to let those people understand what your community is really experiencing? How can people be an effective ally?
Dylan: I think students with disabilities face a significantly increased challenge with isolation. Not just the risk of deterioration of their mental health, but also the reduced access to essential services. Obviously, the panic buying benefits only those with the means to participate (and the supermarkets). There are so many run-on effects; cancellation of necessary but not emergency surgical interventions, reduced access of health services and social support, etc. It’s also noteworthy that while the impact on people with disabilities is arguably the greatest – they are one of the few groups to not receive an increase to their Centrelink pension.
The best way to be an effective ally is to be there for people with disabilities if they need you. Don’t panic buy. Get in contact with the government and push for expanded and equitable social support services. Get in contact with your friends, check in, make sure they’re coping. Don’t share alarmist or exaggerated news or social media posts.
Bry: A lot of us are cut off from our support networks right now – friends, family, therapists and counsellors – and are really struggling with this loss of connection. Many of us rely on these people to feel safe and supported in our lives, especially if home life or other environments are not welcoming or safe. Check in on your queer friends, see how they’re coping, and offer to give them a call and have a chat.
Additionally, a lot of us queer students are struggling with the loss of income from part-time or casual jobs, so ask your friends if they’re running out of anything, and maybe offer to drop off a care package if they need. A lot of us are artists or other types of content creators on the side too. So, if any of your friends are offering commissions, share their work with others, and consider subscribing to their Patreons (or similar) to help them get by in these coming months of uncertainty.
Star: Women not only face political and social injustice but also experience unique health issues and conditions from menstruation and menstrual irregularities, pregnancy and disorders related to infertility. During this understandably stressful period for women, it can be emotionally challenging and mentally damaging to cope for those who are pregnant, have children, live with anxiety and depression, are on lockdown in an abusive household, separated from family or even just experience hormonal imbalances during menstruation. Amidst living with the extraordinary capability of the female body and facing our personal adversities, women now carry added discomfort from social isolation.
For some of us who rely on social relationships and physical activity, the shift to online engagement and limited activities can make anyone consciously suffer on stagnation and loss of emotional support. In the light of this pandemic, we now have ample time to rest, recharge and rebuild ourselves. By taking time to understand ourselves and persevere through our own storms, we become equipped with the strength and empathy to support others. The unique health issues and conditions of women does not portray them to be weak but to acknowledge them as warriors against their everyday battles.
To be an effective ally, redirecting our energy to check in on our friends every day is vital to ensuring that no one is experiencing isolation, alone. Although it a lot of things have been put on pause, it’s important to remember that support services have never stopped. Understanding what women go through on a day-to-day basis should encourage us to be extra mindful and considerate in our words and actions.
5. What have your experiences been (if any) with accessing services relating to your community (ie. culturally competent medical care, counselling, online services such as QLife, 1800RESPECT etc) since social distancing and isolation began? Are there any particular services you’re aware of that are currently available to your community?
Dylan: I’ve personally found it harder to make appointments, I’ve heard that mental health online/phone services like LifeLine, Sucide Call Back Service, are harder to get through to. We know that if the impact on our health service isn’t limited, it will begin to cause poorer outcomes for people requiring healthcare for anything else. Picking up prescriptions is getting harder, as is getting necessary consumables that the general public is now buying, often without purpose.
Bry: QLife is honestly one of the best resources I can recommend for the LGBTQIA+ community right now. They provide queer-friendly peer counselling and support, and can talk to you either over the phone, or via text if you’re not able to talk for comfort or safety reasons. Most psychologists and counsellors are currently offering telehealth sessions too, and the government has said that anybody with a Mental Health Care Plan can receive these sessions bulk-billed, which is a huge help to anybody currently struggling with money right now.
If you’re struggling badly, I highly recommend reaching out to QLife, LifeLine Australia, or a therapist/psychologist. I have a number of friends and colleagues within the mental health sector, and all of them are doing everything they can to ensure that people get the help that they need.
Star: My mental health has been negatively affected like most people, but I haven’t yet reached out to mental health services since social distancing and isolation began so I’m not able to provide that insight. Instead, I’ve just been seeking comfort in books, music, podcasts, my best friend, family and God. Sometimes, it can just be the people who love us for who we are and the things we love for what it is, that are the assurance we need to keep going.
Family & Domestic Violence: In Western Australia, the McGowan Government has created new laws to protect victims of family and domestic violence, who are at an increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. For confidential phone help and referral in Australia, please contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, the National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line. I recommend circulating this ‘Family and Domestic Violence’ information package brochure for Western Australia.
6. What are some tips for your own community in getting through this hard time? (it is okay if you don’t have all the answers, if anything add that in).
Dylan: Curtin Counselling and Disability Services is continuing, as is the Health Service. Lifeline: Phone (13 11 14), Text (0477 13 11 14), Online chat. The Federal Department of Health’s Coronavirus Health Information Line, (1800 020 080), operates 24/7 and is here for all questions and concerns related to COVID-19.
Student Assist remains accessible via phone or email. I’d recommend reading the good news @goodgoodgoodco. Make sure you have a Curtin Access Plan if you need one, make sure its up to date and sent to all your unit coordinators.
Bry: Reach out and talk to people. I know that I’ve said that a lot, but honestly the best thing you can do right now is stay connected with your friends and community and keep each other safe while you’re isolating.Make sure to take breaks from social media – it’s currently saturated with news about the pandemic, which can get super exhausting to read constantly. Find some hobbies or activities that can keep you engaged while you disconnect from the 24/7 news cycle.
Get rest, and lots of it – dealing with the stress and anxiety of everything going on right now will almost certainly be taking a physical toll on you, even if you can’t tell. Getting a good night’s sleep can help immensely with your mood and your capacity to deal with, well, everything. Above all else, be kind to yourself, and accept that you may not be functioning at your best right now. We’re all adjusting to rapidly changing times, and it’s important to give yourself the time and patience to deal with that at your own speed. Try not to beat yourself up for struggling. We’re all in this together, and we all want to help each other get through it safely.
Star: My advice is to keep going. Have hope, perseverance and practice gratitude every day. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions, and I find that reading spiritual books, listening to motivational podcasts in the morning and journaling my feelings helps me sift through my own thoughts when I’m overwhelmed. If it is difficult for you, then just remember that you have the ability to create and change your circumstance.
If you don’t know what you enjoy doing, then reach out to the people who know you best because sometimes, we just need that assurance about ourselves during an uncertain time. Finding motivation and drive in our current circumstance will take a while for most of us but you will be set back in motion eventually. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and to give in to our emotions. It’s okay to be off track. Expectation is the greatest source of unhappiness so don’t expect and simply just let yourself experience being human. It’s all we need to be right now.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Dylan: To summarise my top tips for those in the disability and accessibility need community, include:
- Reach out for professional help when you need it.
- Try to maintain your normal routine.
- Limit your intake of the news to what is necessary.
- Get connected with friends online, reach out and prioritise self-care
- If you are struggling with study as a result of COVID-19, contact Student Assist or Curtin Connect.