The waiter, the forrester and the alderman

Fans of Vindicat

Over the past few years, the news coverage of student association Vindicat atque Polit hasn’t always been positive – to put it mildly. But some people know a different side of the association. And they say Vindicat isn’t so bad.
 by Lucia Grijpink

Abe Bolling

Serves the association members their meals

Abe Bolling has worked for Vindicat for the past twelve years. Back in 2006, he worked as a temp for companies like the Euroborg and Essent, but he was looking for something more permanent. Vindicat needed wait staff. They asked him if he was interested.

Bolling, from the Frisian town of Buitenpost, didn’t go to university himself. He didn’t know anything about Vindicat. But he’ll never forget the moment he first set foot in the former club building at the Grote Markt.

Beer, urine, and vomit: ‘I don’t even smell it anymore’

‘The stench was just incredible. It was a mix of beer, urine, and vomit. I was like, where the hell did the agency send me?!’ But he got used to it quickly enough. ‘The smell just singes the inside of your nose. I don’t even smell it anymore.’

That was twelve years ago; now Vindicat is like Bolling’s home away from home. He has a permanent contract as a waiter. Bolling serves Vindicat members four or five times a week, except on Sundays. He has those off.

During his twelve years, he’s learned all the ins and outs of the association. Once he became immune to the smell, he started to see the ‘other side’ to Vindicat. ‘Many people call it a cult, but I don’t see it like that at all. It’s just a really tight-knit community’, he says.

Bad taste

He proudly talks about all the charities that Vindicat supports, or as he puts it, ‘that we support’. The Heart to Handle Foundation, the Mara Foundation, the VIA Foundation; he can’t seem to shut up about them.

Reading negative things in the paper about Vindicat and the way people make a sport out of criticising the foundation gets him hopping mad. ‘A few years ago, when Wytze Pennink went missing, the whole club went out and looked for him. And this woman on Facebook wrote: “Have they looked for him in the piles of clothes in their basement?”.’

‘That was just in bad taste. I was really upset. It’s such a shame that people can’t see this other side of the association.’

Bolling has had some great times at Vindicat. The highlight of his career so far has to be their final night in the old building, back in 2014. ‘They threw a huge dinner party and invited all of the association committees that had ever resided at the building. They also invited me and a co-worker.’

For once, he was being served instead of doing the serving. Bolling greatly enjoyed his conversations with the greying former committee members. They shared memories of the building. ‘It was a bittersweet moment. The new building just pales in comparison to the old one.’

Bolling has become integral to the association. ‘I’m part of the furniture’, he jokes. If it’s up to him, he will work for the club until his retirement.

And whenever he welcomes guests to the building, the first thing he does is warn them about the smell.

Tjeerd Langhout

Forester with Staatsbosbeheer (Dutch Forestry Service)

Tjeerd Langhout is tasked with the upkeep and planning of nature plots in the province of Drenthe. ‘See this green blob on the map? That’s us.’

During the initiation period, new Vindicat members come to Westerbork to stay in an old barn to get to know each other and the association. During that time, they also spend two days at Langhout’s field doing a kind of hazing exercise, removing unwanted plants and trees.

‘If we don’t do this, the whole field grows full of trees. So they’re doing great work for us.’

The students have been digging up the Staatsbosbeheer fields for fifteen years. They had done work for the municipality of Westerbork before, but the group of students eventually became so big that they were able to finish the work in a day.

‘And so they came to us next’, Langhout explains. ‘We had plenty of work to keep them busy.’ The initiation period just so happens to overlap with the holiday period, when there are fewer volunteers at Staatsbosbeheer. The students fill the void perfectly.

Langhout supervises them. He sometimes chats with the students. This year he talked to two new members, who asked him how he felt about them, especially in light of the press on Vindicat.

‘As far as I’m concerned you’re like any other employee’, Langhout said. He was surprised by how few students were familiar with the Dutch outdoors. ‘Some of them were from Gouda and they’d never even heard of the forests here. This is a whole new world for them.’

They do good work, so they have a standing invitation

He’s not particularly interested in the Vindicat traditions. ‘Last year one guy was carrying a toilet brush all day. They also have all this gunk in their hair. That’s totally up to them, of course. I’m not the boss of them.’

He may not be interested, but he can see the advantages of hazing. ‘It’s a way for the first-years to get to know each other. That’s certainly important. They have to learn all these songs and they all rehearse together while uprooting trees. I can see that this creates a bond.’

As far as Langhout is concerned, Vindicat will always be welcome. ‘They do good work, so they have a standing invitation.’

Paul de Rook

D66 alderman for the municipality of Groningen

From his office at City Hall in the Grote Markt, Paul de Rook looks out at the grand Vindicat building. ‘They’re fine neighbours’, he says. ‘Sometimes we wave at each other. They’ve never bothered me, but then we don’t really keep the same hours.’

Several weeks ago, De Rook addressed Vindicat’s new first-years during their initiation period. He studied in Groningen himself, but was never a member of Vindicat. Instead, he joined the smaller association Unitas and served as chair for the overarching student associations. ‘So I’m pretty familiar with students and their world’, he says.

His speech focused on poverty in the city. ‘Groningen is an amazing city full of young people who are working on the next step in their lives, but the city also has a different side.’

Less fortunate kids

De Rook is talking about the fact that one in five children in Groningen lives below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest Dutch cities. His goal was to raise awareness among the association’s new members and to spur them into action.

‘Our city can only function when people use their capabilities to help people in need.’

This was the first time the municipality actually had a slot during the initiation period, but the collaboration between the city and the association started during Vindicat’s anniversary in 2015. As part of their anniversary, Vindicat held a dinner for homeless people and invited the citizens of Groningen to their pub.

The senate and the Vindicat in Action committee have also offered gifts and services to the city over the past few years. They donated city benches, organised a camp for less fortunate kids, and started a free advice service. They also created the Feith committee, which meets with the municipality four times a year to discuss what Vindicat can do for the city.

De Rook is mainly involved with this committee. ‘The municipality plays an intermediary role in this. When a football club wants to renovate their cafeteria but they lack the expertise or money to do so, business students from Vindicat can help out.’

But the image that everyone has right now just isn’t the whole picture. That’s something that needs changing

De Rook is very pleased with the association. ‘To me, Vindicat is an association that’s really open to their environment. They want to contribute to the city they live in.’ He doesn’t necessarily disagree with the image the media has created, but he feels it’s a bit crude.

‘Sure, Vindicat is a problematic club. They really need to bring about a cultural change. But the image that everyone has right now just isn’t the whole picture. That’s something that needs changing.’

Since De Rook’s address during the initiation period, several students have signed up for projects with the municipality. ‘It was the last day of their initiation, so everyone had been really busy and hadn’t slept much. But the questions I got afterwards and the amount of people who signed up clearly show that I got the message across.’

Will he be talking to the students again next year? ‘Absolutely.’


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