“Hello everyone, may I have your attention please,” student steward Artur Klatka asks a (COVID-19) filled lecture hall in the new UM building on the Paul Henri Spaaklaan. “I could see from outside that you were standing too close to each other. Could you please maintain the one-and-a-half-metre distance? Thank you very much. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.” Since the opening of the academic year, COVID-19 stewards are not just checking if everyone is adhering to the COVID-19 rules, but also to the smoking ban that applies to all UM grounds since August.
All those who enter, have to check in with their UM card and disinfect their hands. “A total of five hundred people is allowed inside the building,” says Klatka, who completed his bachelor’s of European Studies in 2016 and who is going to start on his premaster’s of ‘Strategic Marketing’ and ‘International Business’ in February. The main part of his job consists of walking his rounds through and around the building. Sometimes he collects 25 thousand steps (fifteen to twenty kilometres) in a working day. “Good to help get rid of the COVID-19 kilos,” he laughs. He greets everyone on his rounds. “That way, you are visible and you show that you are friendly. I want to give students the feeling that they can ask me anything.”
Before he started his new job, he attended a one-day workshop. “Staying friendly is the most important thing. This is an international university and in almost every other country the rules are different. As a steward, you have to take that into consideration.” Klatka understands why people are often too close to each other. “We are social animals. It is unnatural to stand so far apart. But it has to be done. Nobody wants to have another lockdown.” They usually listen to him immediately. If they don’t, he will try talking to them. If they still refuse, he will take note of their student ID. “If they also refuse that, I will inform their lecturer, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
During a round outside the building, a guy is leaning against the building with a cigarette between his fingers. Klatka doesn’t say anything about it. “It is no longer allowed on university grounds, but the footpath is public ground.” A number of bicycles are parked near the Mecc parking places somewhat further along. “That is not the idea. Many students don’t know that there is a covered parking place underneath the building. That is why we stick notes on the bicycles that are parked incorrectly.”
There is a tutorial group in session on the second floor of the Spaaklaan building. Through the glass door, Klatka sees that a tutor is standing right beside a student pointing out something on the laptop. He knocks, enters and asks the tutor if he can speak with him. “He apologised,” Klatka says as he comes back out into the corridor. “We are actually only supposed to speak to students.” The idea is that employees correct each other. Departments must appoint their own ‘COVID-19 coach’. This is a temporary position. After a number of weeks, this position will be passed on to the next person.