Bar crawls, taster sessions, bops and swaps first entice new members to student societies in Cambridge…in any normal year that is. In 2020, these Michaelmas staples were replaced by virtual formals, household pub quizzes and increasingly frequent walk-and-coffee trips. With the Freshers’ Fair held virtually for the first time this year, and the vast majority of non-academic events moving online, societies have faced considerable barriers to their scope for attracting new members and engaging with students. Freshers in particular have been limited in their ability to explore and get involved in the diverse range of societies, sports, causes and initiatives that makes Cambridge life so fun, and as finalists we can only attest to what they are missing out on with nostalgic memories of our first two years here.

Even as we face a virtual Lent term, with social interactions limited more than ever, student societies are continuing their work to improve students’ lives and give us a release at the end of the academic day. Behind the scenes, committees have had to quickly adapt to an entirely different set of circumstances which no handover could have prepared them for. Most took over the reigns back in the summer, when we were still riding the post-Lockdown 1.0 high, not imagining we’d be kicking off 2021 in a third one. It is one thing listening to a lecture on 2x speed (a true skill may I add), but coordinating virtual committee meetings around the busy lives of twenty relative strangers is an entirely different challenge. The Cambridge Pink Week Committee has been one of many societies wading through the trials and tribulations of the Zoom and Google Meets, balancing conflicting schedules across three time-zones, propped up by doodle polls, enthusiastic members and an obscene number of Facebook group chats.

“What has been incredibly heartening to witness is the student solidarity that has emerged from these difficult times.”

As the ‘generation of social media’, students and young people are arguably far better prepared for this transition than most, but this does not necessarily make the transition any more enjoyable. Work, study and play are all taking place in the same sphere at the moment. Our day revolves around the screen between essay-writing, lecture-attending and Zoom quiz hosting (opticians are going to have a field day with this). Given this homogeneity and monotony, student societies face a considerable challenge this year in engaging students; even a recreational virtual event or activity just isn’t as appealing as it perhaps would have been in years gone by, without the novelty of trying out a new medium or platform. Social media, an established and powerful tool for publicity in normal circumstances, has never been relied upon to such an extent as it is now, with news feeds now overwhelmed with societies circulating their events, messages and plans. In addition, one of the principal attractions of getting involved in societies is the opportunity to meet people beyond the confines of your flat or staircase, broadening your personal Cambridge bubble so to speak. Such is the uphill struggle for students and societies alike, as real-life connections are replaced by virtual ones. We find hope, however, that they will not be virtual forever.

Of course, the extent to which different societies’ plans have been disrupted depends entirely on the usual timetable of events, the facilities required and external factors. The classic Winter Balls of Selwyn and Fitzwilliam were both cancelled far in advance, and Varsity Ski Trip has been the latest student-led event taken down by the pandemic. However, May Ball committees continue to cautiously plan for events in June, and groups like Cambridge Pink Week have quickly adapted their plans to the new online context. For charitable initiatives the challenges have been even greater. Usually relying on generous sponsorship and large-scale events such as balls and formals to raise money, student-led fundraising is just another part of the charitable sector left decimated by this pandemic.


Mountain View

How To Outpace a Bear

However, Pink Week is still there for its charities and for students, with an exciting offering ranging from dance classes, an art exhibition, virtual escape rooms and informative panels. We support six amazing charities which have been badly hit by the consequences of the pandemic, for example, the Breast Cancer Haven have had to make the difficult decision to close two of its support centres. With breast cancer affecting around 54,700 women and 390 men in the UK each year, we should remember that cancer hasn’t gone away, just because Covid dominates the headlines: The pandemic year has been particularly hard for cancer patients, many of whom have had treatments and surgeries delayed, and have been separated from their support networks of friends and family due to lockdowns. We should all still check our bodies regularly, and go to the doctor if we are concerned by any symptoms.

What has been incredibly heartening to witness is the student solidarity that has emerged from these difficult times. More than ever as individuals we are checking in on each other and student societies are collaborating and sharing the publicity and resources of others to an unprecedented extent. There is an unspoken agreement that as a university community we are pulling together this year to ensure we all get through, and I sincerely hope this continues in the years to come. The message to students is that societies are still here for you, still ‘open for business’, and still working hard to extend the Cambridge experience beyond the (virtual) lecture hall.

Amidst the limitation is hope, creativity and above all a need to continue socialising as normally as we can. It is far too easy to fall into the Cambridge stress trap, believing that because we do not have much else to do we should be extra productive, have all our essays in early and set about perfecting some kind of impressive side hustle. The aim of this Lent term should be getting through in one piece, maintaining your mental and physical wellbeing as best possible, and keeping you and your family safe from Covid. We really hope that the offerings of Cambridge societies, like Pink Week, will mean that this term will be more than just grin and bear it. Whether this year is a stopgap, a period of preservation for societies that are vital to the social fabric of the university, or even an opportunity for groups to adapt and evolve for a new generation, it will be a year like no other in so many ways.

The Cambridge Pink Week committee is hoping to engage students to check in with their mental and physical health, spread life-saving awareness and bring some light into your lockdown. Follow these links to our events and Just-Giving pages:

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @CambridgePinkWeek