Representing student experience in a lockdown comic

If I believed everything I read in the press, during lockdown students were all having parties, getting fined £10,000 each weekend for breaking rules, and were solely responsible for the spread of coronavirus. This makes me angry because it’s very different to the experience I’ve witnessed working at Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham Trent International College.

The students I’ve spoken to have spent their 21st birthday behind closed doors, missed out on graduation, never met other people from their modules face to face, and feel anxious, not just about the virus, but what this means for their future.

It’s with this in mind, that I’ve spent lockdown talking to lots of students across disciplines and from different cities and countries. I’ve discovered that in Cyprus you have to carry a card around with you proving that you’re allowed to leave your house during set times; in Manchester, students have had security guards knocking on their doors to check there’s nobody inside; I’ve spoken to students who have remained in student accommodation because they don’t want to go home due to family problems; and some international students who have come here for one term as part of an international placement have spent it entirely inside their room.

I want to address these representations in the next comic for Whatever People Say I Am, a series of online comics challenging stereotypes. The artist for the project is Lauren Morey, a Creative Writing student in her third year at Nottingham Trent. Lauren draws people without faces which seemed apt for a story about a group of people whose fears and anxieties have been largely overlooked by the media.

As part of the project, I’d like to include eight ‘pen portraits’ by students. Very simply, I want them to share their experiences of lockdown – whatever that might be. These will be published on the ‘Features’ section on the website which provides context to the comic. I’ve witnessed some wonderful strategies for keeping sane and trying to embed a sense of normality, from live streamed fancy dress parties in the bedroom to a silent disco on the balcony of flats.

If you have a story you would like to share of how you coped as a student during lockdown, please do get in contact. You don’t need to have sky dived off your balcony or learned how to speak dolphin. You just need to be honest about what you did and be yourself.

You can contact me here

This blog was originally published on dawnoftheunread.wordpress

Comic addressing issues faced by Hungarian migrants

‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’ is the fourth comic in the Whatever People Say I Am series. It’s aim is simple: To put a human face to statistics and challenge stereotypes. It features a Hungarian migrant I interviewed a couple of years ago as part of the New and Emerging Communities research project with Dr. Loretta Trickett for the Police Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping.

For the past three years I’ve been working in collaboration with Dr Loretta Trickett of Nottingham Trent University to create two comics that address the issue of new and emerging communities. One key area of her research is barriers faced by migrants and refugees as they integrate into the host country. She is also interested in ways in which understanding of migrant communities can help reduce Hate Crime. These sentiments bode well with Whatever People Say I Am – the follow-on project to Dawn of the Unread. Our other reason for collaboration is to help make academic research more accessible. Often, it’s hidden behind expensive paywalls and read by a privileged few. The comic format allows us to distil the essence of this research and frame it in a format that will reach a broader audience.

This has been a slow process for numerous reasons, the main one being that we have interviewed lots of people to find the best story to address the issues. I originally set out with the intention of featuring Roma people as I think modern life makes it increasingly impossible to live a simple nomadic life and I was eager to represent such issues in a comic. Similarly, the beautiful colours associated with the culture lent itself to visual representation. But as is often the case with research, the focus changes the more people you meet.

The comics are partly funded by Paddy Tipping, the Police and Crime Commissioner. In an article for the comic, Paddy reflects on his tenure as PCC and said: “Britain is more diverse than ever before. Nottinghamshire is a rich mixture of races, cultures, beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles. I want it to be the most welcoming county in the country, a place where people can be who they are without judgement or fear.”

He is genuinely committed to ending hate crimes of all sorts and recognises the importance of getting this message out in a way that’s befitting of the people and issues it addresses. It’s hoped that we will be able to put printed copies of the comics in public spaces – libraries, community centres, etc to trigger debate and discussion. It will also be used as a resource in schools. The comic will be available on our website by the end of the week.

Until then, the Police and Crime Commission elections are happening up and down the country on 6 May. In Nottingham the candidates are: Paddy Tipping (Labour); Caroline Henry (Conservative); David Watts (Liberal Democrat). Please take the time to research the candidates and vote. We know who we will be voting for…

Dawn of the Unread explored Nottingham’s literary history and was created to raise awareness of low literacy levels in the UK. Whatever People Say I Am is our follow-up project and challenges stereotypes. This blog was originally published on the Dawn of the Unread website here

Further reading