When RUG president Sibrand Poppema announced the creation of an anti-hazing committee to the University Council last week, the three student political parties – SOG, Lijst Calimero and Lijst Sterk – had something to say.
While all the factions agreed that the bang list and the violent altercation at Vindicat were unacceptable, Calimero and SOG were displeased with the RUG’s seemingly sudden change of heart. ‘It’s an intrusion on the tradition and culture of the student associations’, said Lijst Calimero chairperson Daan van Dijk. SOG’s faction chairperson Evan Clark seconded that view: ‘It’s our responsibility to work with students, not against them.’
Lijst Sterk’s Pieter Polhuis, on the other hand, supported the board’s plans and had been calling for just this sort of response before Poppema’s announcement. The Lijst Sterk representative says that he suspects that the other factions opposed the plans due to their close connections with student associations.
It is true that the associations are disproportionately represented in the University Council: out of the twelve student members, six are members of a Contractus association. Albertus is especially well represented among the factions: both SOG and Calimero have two members of the association in their council faction. The chairperson of the Calimero faction is a member of the Navigators, and another faction member is also a member of Dizkartes.
In contrast, out of a combined student population between the RUG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences of more than 60,000 students, approximately 6,500 students are members of a Contractus group – that means that only 11 per cent of all students at the RUG or Hanze are members.
Does having so many association members in the council represent a dilemma for the students when it comes to handling hazing? The council members themselves all say unequivocally: absolutely not. SOG’s Clark, who is not affiliated with an association, says, ‘All decisions we make are discussed internally beforehand and the diversity within the student population is also reflected in our faction.’
Van Dijk, who was a board member of Contractus last year, says that his role as a representative of all students comes before his identity as a member of Navigators. ‘Quality of education is my biggest priority as a member of the faction, and the fact that I’m a member of an association doesn’t really matter.’
SOG faction member Marco de Vries echoes that view: ‘Personally, I ran for a seat in the council on behalf of all students, and I was elected by all the students, not only the members of the associations.’ The representatives assert that they are in the council on behalf of the whole university community, but voter turnout for the 2016 university elections was not dramatically higher than the percentage of Contractus association members. Last year’s elections were actually a record low: only 27.9 per cent of all students at the RUG cast a ballot.
Lijst Calimero’s Tessa van de Werve, a member of Albertus, says that she is not all that surprised that her fellow student faction members also happen to be part of Contractus groups. ‘The fact that you’re an association member means that you’re actively involved in the university, and generally speaking, those students are also well connected in the city’, she says. ‘So in that sense, I think it’s quite logical that this correlation exists.’
Hanne Oelen, a Lijst Calimero representative who is a member of Dizkartes, says that she does not see a problem with associations being so present in the council. ‘I’m a part of a year club and I really enjoy that, but I also have that degree of contact with other groups of students’, she says. ‘We are in regular contact with students from all walks of life, and in doing so, we aim to represent everyone’s interests.’
That active engagement is also reflected in the so-called ‘steunlijst’ of students who endorse the parties during elections. Each list can consist of up to 60 members, including top 10 candidates who are eligible for election to the council. The lists are primarily made up of students who themselves are members of various associations – nearly every student on the list is a part of a sports association, study association or student association.
But the number of Contractus members occupying that list is also higher than the total student population average: at least 25 per cent of Calimero’s endorsers and 30 per cent of SOG’s are part of one of the seven groups. In fact, the student in 27th place on SOG’s endorsements list is traditionally a member of Vindicat.
De Vries says that despite the considerable number of connections the parties have with the associations, he and his fellow SOG members are aware that they are in the council to represent all students. ‘We take our job very seriously, and I think that also counts for every other party as well’, he says. ‘My membership in an association has nothing to do with the decisions I made in the council.’