COVID-19 Student Task Force

July 30, 2020

by Gesine Reichel (Mundus MAPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy) 

Slowly, the coronavirus disrupted our lives. Then it hit us hard, when borders closed, when the university shut its doors, when our students in Vienna were evacuated to Budapest, and the number of infected people in my country rose. I felt so helpless. Trying to keep up with the academic schedule did not seem like much but was impossible for me. Like many of us, I checked the news every minute, lying in bed wondering what this situation was doing to me and the impact it would make.

Then we got an e-mail from the Student Union about four months ago, asking for students to help others deal with the corona situation. Immediately I felt inspired and volunteered. Since then, things have evolved quickly, as the Student Task Force was assembled, and we began operations and tried to find solutions to whatever problems we encountered. After two weeks of a little uncoordinated and chaotic work, we set up a structure to ensure that our work could continue long-term and in a more effective and approachable manner. We established seven teams and appointed one person to be responsible for each who students could contact if they needed support or wanted to join us: Outreach (me, Gesine Reichel), Activities (Natalia Pais Fornari), Mental Peer Support (Esther Angonemi Ebimoghan), Cleaning (Juliana Pereira), Hotel (Mohammad Sami Abu Hawash), Medication (Xishixin Song) and Self-Isolation (Katerina Krejcova). I want to use this opportunity to thank the whole Student Task Force – Team & Volunteers for your efforts, commitment and the time you sacrificed (and still sacrifice)! I am amazed by your energy, creativity and motivation; they are what keep me going.

Every Tuesday we have a meeting to monitor our progress and to discuss new issues, tasks and ideas. To coordinate our work with the university, Bernadett Fekete from the Community Engagement Office steers these meetings and listens to all of our suggestions and the problems we raise on behalf of the student body. She does her best to pass these on or to find a solution with us. On behalf of the Student Task Force, we would like to say thank you, Detti, for your patience and thank you to all of the CEU Staff who have worked tirelessly while being a great source of support throughout this period and continue to be so. I especially want to mention the Dean of Students & his office, the Community Engagement Office, the CEU Alumni Office, Student Life, the President, the Provost, Residence Center staff and the Medical Center Team.

What Have We Achieved So Far?

I would like to highlight the first activity organized by the Student Task Force, an open-mic event that took place on Monday, April 27. Around 50 people participated online, and students sang, played instruments and read (self-composed) poems to offer support to each other during this time of social distancing. Reflecting on the evening, Suzyika wrote the following feedback: "It's been an amazing time. Thank you, Mohammad and Natalia, for organising this. And thanks to all the volunteers! You brightened up the night!" Another initiative, coordinated by Esther in cooperation with the Alumni Office, was the distribution of encouraging notes in the Residence Center each Sunday. Small pieces of paper with greetings from CEU alumni were slipped under everyone’s door (see picture). Furthermore, to express the student body’s gratitude towards the university’s staff, management and alumni, we collected thank you messages from students in a video that was sent across #CEUstandswithU. Later on, our team grew as Farzana Abdilashimova and Eva Marina Valencia Lenero joined us. Farzana created a wonderful video in which students shared encouraging messages with the CEU Community about how to get through the pandemic together and Eva initiated a special Resilience Corona Virus Series together with the CEU Student Newspaper STAND.

I would like to add that we are easily approachable and offer an open ear to students’ concerns, putting in a great deal of effort to push some of their most common and urgent concerns. Raising awareness among the administration in regards to the increasing racism that students were facing led to an online seminar on April 17. The event was organized by the Dean of Students Office together with TASZ (the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on civil rights and obligations in Hungary, which saw a discussion of hate speech regulations and practices. When the increase in internet traffic caused difficulties with the Wi-Fi Connection in the Residence Center, meaning that students were sometimes unable to participate in online classes, we assessed the situation, pushed this issue higher up on the administration’s agenda and proposed solutions. In cooperation with the Residence Center Management, cleaning supplies were made available so that rooms and kitchens could be kept clean, after cleaning services had to be suspended due to the circumstances. Furthermore, together with the Student Union (I especially would like to mention Mohammad here), we urged the administration to find solutions for students who cannot go home due to coronavirus regulations in their home countries following graduation or between their two years as financial support from their scholarships was ending. The university and Residence Center have shown incredible support, flexibility and kindness in their response – rents were reduced, scholarships partially extended, and the emergency fund expanded.

Working on the Student Task Force has made me feel less helpless at a time when I felt the most powerless in my life. Seeing that we could actually help students with our work and improve the generally chaotic situation gave me the energy and power to face this virus and rediscover my motivation to study. It was while I was distributing notes of encouragement from CEU Alumni in the RC, Thank You notes to CEU Staff, as well as lending an ear to people I didn’t previously know who were struggling with their circumstances that I realized that I was not alone with my feelings and worries. To experience this great community spirit at CEU has made me very grateful to be a part of this university. We are all in this boat together and I am positive that together we can sail safely into a haven – graduation, finding a job or just enjoying normal life again.

During the break between the two academic years the Student Task Force will continue to operate in a reduced form – so we will be available if any student needs help – just let us know!