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“Going back to campus will be good for us”

Students affected by the 6th of February earthquakes talk about the remote education decision taken following the disaster.

The earthquakes centred in Maraş, affecting Turkey and Syria, costing thousands of lives and leaving thousands of people homeless, affected us all deeply. Since day one of the earthquake, volunteers have worked hard in the affected areas. While the earthquake’s physical and psychological destruction was still fresh, President Erdoğan announced that all universities would be closed and the Credit and Hostels Institution (KYK) dormitories, where students were accommodated, would be allocated to those affected by the quakes. Following Erdogan’s announcement, the students were hastily removed from their dormitories.

We interviewed students living in the earthquake zone about this decision and its effects, which were met with objections through many channels, especially social media. Reminding that during the pandemic, the remote education model is inadequate in teaching, and certain groups can’t access it, students complain that education is the first thing to be sacrificed in any extraordinary situation. Pointing out that when they return to their campuses after the pandemic, the negativities caused by this period are also reflected in their social relations, the students think that face-to-face education will have a healing effect in this extraordinary situation.

“We want to return to our campuses and share each other’s pain”

Mehmet Emin, a senior student at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Dicle University, living in Diyarbakır, one of the cities affected by the earthquake, said that remote education brought many grievances and continued:

“We were caught in the earthquake with my family. I didn’t know what to do in the first place as I experienced such a big quake for the first time in my life. For a long time, I could not overcome the psychological depression. This situation was reflected in my communication and daily routine with the people around me. Our house was damaged; therefore, we were here and there for days. I hope such a disaster never happens again.

“Later, it was decided that universities would be postponed for a while. Due to the effects of the disaster, this postponement was a good call. However, after a short time, it was announced that universities would switch to distance education. While we could not overcome the psychological destruction we experienced, making this decision increased the intensity of the stress.

“This online education, which started with the pandemic, unfortunately, destroyed our education life. So in every challenge, it doesn’t make sense for universities to continue online education because we haven’t seen an educational benefit. As a student who wants to study for a master’s degree, I say that this situation has taken away a lot from me and my education, and it seems that it will continue to do so. So I will graduate this year and don’t want to graduate with remote education. We, along with our other friends in earthquake areas, want to return to our campuses and share each other’s pain, and we know this will be good for us.”

Criticising the allocation of KYK dormitories to those affected by the earthquake, while there are many alternative opportunities, students stated that the people should be placed in community centres or hotels instead of the dormitories, which have poor physical conditions even for students.

“We have concerns for the future”

Nur Veda, a 3rd-grade student of Nursing at Elazığ Fırat University living in Diyarbakır, said that she studied the 1st grade from a distance due to covid and that they had problems adapting to education in the 2nd grade during the pandemic and the normalisation process.

“When we just started to learn something in the first semester of the 3rd grade, we switched to remote education because of the earthquake,” said Nur Veda and conveyed her concerns as follows:

“Both my friends and I have a lot of shortcomings in terms of applied courses, so we have concerns for the future as healthcare professionals. To be practical and valuable nurses in the future, we want our applied courses to be face-to-face and our internships to continue, even though our theoretical courses are online.

“After the earthquakes, we experienced many grievances both in the field of education and others. Following the remote education and evacuation of dormitory calls, the dormitory administration said that we had to come and collect our belongings in one day. They said that if we did not get our belongings, they would break the locks of our cabinets, get our stuff and throw them in the basement and not take any responsibility if they were lost. While we were still suffering the effects of the earthquake, we had to rush to collect our belongings. Since I couldn’t afford to go to Elazığ and grab my belongings, I asked a friend of mine in Elazig to collect them. The whole situation could have been handled differently, but at the end of the day, we were the ones who suffered.”

“The dormitory was damaged”

Delal, a first-year student at Dicle University Faculty of Law, who lives with her family in Urfa, said that a week after the earthquake, the dormitory administration said that they had to come to collect their belongings, otherwise that the staff would collect them; keep in rooms for a while, and then left in the basement.

“I didn’t want to leave my family because the earthquake shook us, but I had to go and get my belongings,” Delal said, adding that her friends in other cities could not get them.

“I have had friends who lost their relatives. In such a situation, I cannot accept that the dormitory administration calls students and leaves them alone with a grievance. I was shocked when I heard that the earthquake victims would be placed in dormitories because my friends from the dormitory said that the building had minor damage. I believe people who still suffer the effects of the quakes should be placed in a safer place.

“I am a first-year student. And the fact that universities started remote education while I was still trying to adopt the university had a negative impact on me. However, I feel we can spend some time with my friends living in earthquake zones and be good for each other. I don’t think there is suitable infrastructure for remote education. Everyone knows that the efficiency we get from the courses will impact our professional life. I want this decision to be reversed.”

“University was a space of solidarity”

The students, affected by the severe destruction caused by the earthquakes, talked about the fear they felt during the quake and drew attention to the importance of being together.

Dicle University Faculty of Medicine 4th grade student Civan Hüseyin explained how he experienced the earthquake as follows:

“I was awake when the earthquake happened. The shaking was so severe that for a while, I couldn’t understand that there was an earthquake because I was in shock. Then I leaned over the bed and waited for it to pass. At that time, I shouted to wake the people in the house. My family and I gathered in the big room when the shaking subsided. We were hesitant to go out as it was snowing. But we had to. Then I saw on the news that the Galeria collapsed. The block where a close friend of mine lived collapsed. A friend’s uncle’s family of seven was under the same rubble. In the morning, I went out; there was an extraordinary silence. I was caught in the second earthquake while I was outside. I immediately took my family to a safe place for four days. When I got home, there was a crack in the wall in my room. I was able to see the other room. But it is said that our house was undamaged. We had to continue to live there after the fourth day.”

The school decided to take a three-week holiday, the rectorate building was evacuated, and the Faculty of Medicine was seriously damaged, said Civan Hüseyin and added: “Those three weeks were truly the hardest time I’ve ever spent at home.”

“Everyone was still in great shock. There were always aftershocks. We were always by the rubble, expecting good news. There was a significant mobilisation on social media; sometimes, it moved me deeply. I have also been in our school groups or other WhatsApp groups. There was a philosophy club where we held meetings for a long time. We used to gather every Thursday under the ‘Nous philosophy club’ name and do philosophy readings. We had a sizeable WhatsApp group. We used that group for our aid work. I met my friend who was under the rubble in this club. Then we got the news of my friend’s death. It was about nine days later. I also participated in aid work as I found strength. At the same time, we were expecting good news from the rubbles.”

Stating that although the medical faculties will be exempt from the decision of online education, the theoretical courses continue to be online; Civan Hüseyin explained the effect of this decision as follows:

“The fact that students are deprived of school at this time has put us in a worse situation. Because school was not only an educational institution but also a space of solidarity in which togetherness became stronger. Of course, we also had friends who became homeless; we had to consider them. That’s why I thought the most reasonable would be hybrid education. That was the decision of some universities.

“But our school has announced that we will only have online education. As medical fourth graders, we were also told that we would cover our applied courses in a compressed form later. After that, online education started and continues. I wish we, especially medical interns, would be exempted from this situation. Because during the pandemic, the courses were online, and we had a poor-quality education. Now we are in the same case again. Unfortunately, our education continues with severe problems at the moment. Especially in our profession, where interactive education is the most essential, the online education decision was wrong for us. I hope we don’t suffer from this in the future.

“Suddenly, all my classmates returned to their hometowns. We were giving each other morale by meeting with our friends who were here; because staying at home was making us paranoid. There was always the fear of an earthquake; on the one hand, we were following the heartbreaking news. It cannot be said that we are entirely over the shock.”

The students, who were physically and psychologically affected by the earthquakes, say that the organizational inadequacies of the institutions victimize them and demand that this decision be reversed. University students, who want to return to their campuses as soon as possible and heal their wounds with their friends, say that sacrificing their education in any extraordinary situation will cause the end of a generation, and they will continue to object to this decision.

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