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This article discusses insights from two separate and linked projects. A staff-facing project at a UK university in the English Midlands, took place in late Spring 2020. We heard at that time a concern from staff for students who were not in touch and were not “visible” due to their absence from digital places as well as the more obvious physical ones. Staff also discussed their sense that, from the students who were in contact, there were a lot more emails and one-on-one discussions about logistics and worries. In Spring 2021, at a university in the north of England, we conducted a student-facing project intended to discover their lived experience of the 2020-21 academic year, as well as surface insights into what the phrase “back to campus” might mean for these students. Students struggled with what their lecturers were asking in terms of visibility (especially cameras). Students were also concerned about building and maintaining connections. The desire for effective and transparent communication in a time of crisis was also expressed. We juxtapose the rhetoric about “back to campus” and assumptions embedded in policies around cameras and digital participation with the expressed desires of students for human relationships and care in a time of uncertainty and upheaval. We end with implications for institutions going forward, with the certainty that this will not be the last time, as a sector, when we have to rely primarily on digital places and platforms for the work of the University.
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