PRAGUE: It was Friday, October 2nd that the first few emails went out; the last afternoon of add/drop. AAU students, still shaken by the unfortunate switch to distance learning two weeks prior, were just coming to terms with their new academic realities for the semester and the added feeling of loneliness that comes with attending school online. Then the news broke: nostrification is back, there is a round of extra exams for near everyone and AAU will not be paying the tab.
At the time of the first informational meeting between AAU administration and the students affected by nostrification, on the morning of October 7th, we knew little about the full scope of the problem. Never less, armed with frustration and hours worth of emotional comments, several seniors took the stage to ask some of the rhetorical questions that were on the mind of every student in that meeting: what is this new act that passed, why are we just hearing about it now and how are we expected to complete the process in half the time it normally takes? We soon realized we were not expected to.
Dissatisfied with this result, affected students immediately took their frustration to WhatsApp where they started a group and were swiftly joined by dozens of others. “Graduates cannot wait” said one of the founders of the chat “I believe that if we all write letters to the ministry they can make some changes, because what university did was unprofessional”. That was all it took to engage the community in a passionate discussion that has gone on for over a month now.
Wednesday the 7th ended with over 120 participants in the original group, several ‘spin-off’ WhatsApp chats, decisive action from on-campus organizations, official response from the administration, support from affected students’ Czech classmates and professors, and one question on everyone’s mind: did we finally figure out virtual university life?
Veteran students, now united in a separate chat on WhatsApp, have admitted to having heard about nostrification before, however were reportedly either told it had been completed on their behalf or was no longer required. The current freshmen, class of 2023 (gathered in a chat of the same name) as well found the term “nostrification” familiar, although were brutally surprised by its undisclosed severity. The nostrification issue was “unprecedented but not unforeseen” Lennon Wall reporters explained; let me tell you, that phrasing took some serious thought when the Editorial Board were plotting it in their brand new channel of communication: a WhatsApp group.
The “Nostrif*cation Info” WhatsApp group (the original chat, which remains the largest) has attracted some controversy and drama, however, has certainly had its achievements. In the following weeks, it has completed and gathered dozens of signatures on at least two official letters to AAU professors, administration and the Czech authorities; leaders of the chat along with the Student Council, have met with the AAU President, Štěpán Müller, to discuss solutions; lawyers have been consulted on the university’s Academic Codex and its implications; two meetings have been arranged, where students from different schools and years of study discussed acting as a unit in trying to evoke change. It was in the second of these meetings, which lasted an impressive two hours, late into the night and crossed into some unexpected topics, that many realized what a push our shared nostrification dilemma has given the AAU community and how much social media — WhatsApp in particular — contributed to it.
Nostrification has, of course, not been the only issue our community had to face this fall. For me personally, the freshmen tragedy triggered particularly striking emotion. I just think anyone whose freshmen orientation ends with being told campus is closed and they are not to return until further notice deserves a bit of sympathy. In a fit of tenderness that took over me during the first Student Council meeting of the semester, I asked my freshmen fellow council members, “Do you have class together? Have you met?” The four exchanged disoriented looks, “We don’t have class together and we never met, but we know each other”. I tilted my head and blinked a few times in confusion — here I thought I’d been around the block. Someone quickly elaborated for me, “Most of us are in different places…but we have a WhatsApp group now.”
I was approaching a conclusion that made me feel warm inside: social media has transcended means of communication and become a source of unity; like it or not, our common hardships (nostrification, distance learning and more) contributed heavily. However, I was not sure if my classmates and friends got a similar idea, until a conversation that took place in a quick break from discussing legal terms in our university contracts.
“You guys have really made me feel like a part of something” said one participant in a more informal, but equally effective Russian-language spin-off chat (the name of which should perhaps go unmentioned, due to its less than PG-13 implications). “For the first time?” someone else noted with a smirking emoji. Silence was all that followed for a little while, but everyone in the group saw the elephant in our shared virtual ‘room’: we at AAU have not felt more like a community in a long time.