Wardens are keeping an eye on distance

15 October 2020

Uppsala University introduced social distancing wardens this autumn. Their job is to make sure that groups of people are not socialising too close to each other and that the recommended distance between individuals is being maintained in the various campus areas.

The University’s new social distancing wardens are settling into their roles. Easy to find in their red vests, we checked in to ask how they see the situation and how their work is going at a couple of University campuses.

The wardens at the Centre for Economic Sciences, Ekonomikum, are Anna Abbevik and Anna Nilsson, who think the job is a great way to combine their studies with a part-time job.

“We read in the news that the University was hiring social distancing wardens, then found the job ad in the article in the the Student Union paper, Ergo”, says Anna Abbevik.

“Since commuting to my summer job on a rural bus, I understand why we need social distancing”, Anna Nilsson says.

They believe one of the biggest challenges for maintaining social distance is that there are not enough seats and the ones that do exist are not marked clearly enough with the recommended maximum number per table.

“Especially since a lot of students move chairs around so they can work in groups. It was hard to get people to take us seriously before we got our red vests, and it is still a challenge getting students to move, even though we tell them where there are empty spaces."

"It’s a delicate balance sometimes - being both a student and a representative of the University - especially when we are asked about closed study spaces.”

The best part of the job is when the students choose large tables of their own accord and the social distancing wardens are usually quick to praise them for it.

Are you getting any feedback from students or University employees?

“It seems like a lot of University employees still don’t know that we exist and wonder what we’re doing, but some, especially library staff, usually say hello and look pleased to see us. Although students often say ‘thanks for the reminder’, it feels like they are not taking it that seriously, since we see that they often move back to where they were once we have gone.”

Peter Götlind, the facilities manager at Ekonomikum, agrees with the social distancing wardens’ estimation that there are some challenges that have to be dealt with.

“The wardens have reported some lip service, and they are doing a lot of good here.”

Rewarding to contribute in a historic era

Marcus Karlén is one of the social distancing wardens at the English Park Campus. According to him, the main advantages of the job as a social distancing warden are the flexible time schedule, the daily exercise and being able to see with his own eyes how well the students are following Public Health Agency guidelines.

“The feedback has been good. After all, this entire job is a prerequisite for finding solutions that will allow us to gradually return to in-person teaching. It feels rewarding to be able to contribute in some way in this historic era and the job is extremely flexible.”

One of the biggest challenges at first was to find a phrase that was informative enough to explain the purpose and the authority of a social distancing warden.

“Once we had the red vests, my conversations with students could focus on solutions, instead of being confrontational. When I talk with students, they trust me because I am a student at Uppsala too,” says Marcus Karlén.


Johan Ahlenius