Questions surround ending hazing

‘We will stop hazing in this city’, asserted RUG president Sibrand Poppema on Thursday. But not everyone sees that happening.
By Traci White, Maaike Vos, Tim Bakker, Simone Harmsen, Laurien van Ulzen, Sjef Weller and Peter Keizer, Bas Nijhuis and Thamar Smit / Translation by Traci White

Vindicat rector Stijn Derksen has been overwhelmed with media requests all day. Just outside the entrance to the association’s building, satellite trucks from NOS and RTL are parked on the Grote Markt. He did not have the opportunity to speak directly to the UK today, but on BNR Radio, he shared his take on the sudden hardening of the RUG’s position. ‘Are we going to stop hazing? As far as we can tell, that is up to the committee, and we will be a part of that along with the university and the municipality.’

Derksen remains cautious. He will not say whether hazing will be done away with altogether. ‘We have to focus on working with this committee before making any further comments.’

‘Their own mess’

Arjen Banach of the municipal party Student and City (Student & Stad) feels that Poppema’s comments are ‘a bit hasty’. He would prefer that Vindicat be given the opportunity to clean up their own mess. ‘What has come to light in the past few days cannot be permitted. But we cannot get behind this witch hunt. What seems to be overlooked in this discussion is that the associations are a big part of student life.’

Politician and former Vindicat member Job Cohen seconds that. ‘The associations have to handle these matters themselves’, he says. When he was a student, he says that as far as he was aware, no incidents of this nature ever occurred. As a member, he dedicated himself to trying to bring greatly equality to the association. As such, Cohen says that he thinks the uproar that has been caused is a good thing. “The fact that they have this sword of Damocles hanging over them now isn’t necessarily bad’.

The City party (Stadspartij) also questions Poppema’s strong words. ‘A hazing-free city is probably not really achievable’, says faction chairperson Amrut Sijbolts. ‘We are not against hazing if they do everything within their power to avoid these sorts of altercations. But it is absolutely clear that something has to change: there have been some significant excesses in recent years.’

‘Not getting involved’

Sabine Koebrugge of the VVD faction in Groningen is unhappy with the statement which Poppema and the mayor are making. ‘The municipality should not get involved in this.’ Ending hazing will achieve nothing, she says. ‘That will only result in a climate of uncertainty where it is unclear what is or is not acceptable. I also took part in hazing at Albertus when I was a student. It usually goes off without incident, but there will always be idiots who do something that is against the rules.’

The National Student Union (LSVb) believe that calling for an end to hazing is too harsh. ‘But it has to be made clear that no one can be injured and that sexism is unacceptable.’

‘Symbolic politics’

CUOS, the organisation which provides student grants to board members of the associations, takes another tack. ‘We support the statement from the municipality, the RUG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences’, says chairperson Anouar Ibn el Kadi. It’s actually strange that people are just now going after Vindicat for this, because hazing has been going on forever.’

Lijst Sterk is the only student party in the University Council that is ‘strongly in favour’ of ending hazing. But faction chairperson Pieter Polhuis questions why the board has taken this stance so late in the game. ‘We think that it’s pretty clearly symbolic politics. We don’t know how serious we can take this. Initially, the RUG insisted that this was an ‘internal matter’ for the associations, and now that the minister of education has gotten involved, the board is all of a sudden in favour of ending hazing. But I would say that they now have to put their money where their mouth is.’

‘Media spotlight’

Minister Bussemaker wants hazing to stop ‘starting today.’ But she also has her doubts about the deal between the RUG and Vindicat. ‘I still need to find out what exactly has been agreed upon’, she said in an interview with BNR.

‘It seems that the university has made a 180 degree turn because of being in the media spotlight and all of this political attention’, says Jasper van Dijk, a Socialist Party member of the Lower House. ‘It’s time for the student associations to take a long, hard look at themselves and for the RUG to take action’, he says.

PvdA House member Ahmed Marcouch wants an investigation into whether the board members of Vindicat should be held accountable for the excesses that have taken place at the organisation. ‘A norm has to be established. This misbehaviour can no longer be dismissed as simply being a part of hazing.’

‘There’s no going back’

In any case, Bart Beijer of the Personnel faction is ‘very pleased with this result.’ For years, his party has questioned why the board has not put a stop to hazing. Beijer is glad that the RUG  under pressure from minister Bussemaker, public opinion and media attention – is finally giving in.

‘And if Vindicat says that we have to wait and see what the committee says, then they have clearly misunderstood this statement. Poppema said this in no uncertain terms, and there is no going back now. Hazing will end. I understand that the board members of the associations may not fully understand it just yet and may not believe that things can change so quickly overnight. But they can.’


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