Students
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Covid-19 deals a blow to student associations

No KEI, no new members?

No parties, no pub crawls, no massive sing-along at the Grote Markt. How will student associations deal with the cancellation of the introductory KEI week? ‘If we don’t recruit enough members, we’ll struggle for the next five years.’
By Jelmer Buit and Sofia Strodt

To student association Dizkartes, the cancellation of the KEI week is a real blow. ‘Everyone here at Dizkartes was extremely disappointed when we heard the introductory week wouldn’t take place in its usual form’, says board member for external relations Aukje Hopmans. ‘Of course, safety is the most important thing, but for our association the KEI week is essential to let people know we exist’, she points out. 

The corona crisis is already causing Dizkartes financial problems. ‘Normally, we earn money from people buying drinks or tickets for events, but now nothing is coming in. And if we don’t recruit enough members, which we mostly do at the KEI week, we’ll struggle for the next five years’, says Hopmans. ‘We need to attract at least 150 members this year, or our association will suffer the consequences of not having enough income.’ 

Physical contact

Since the KEI week – the general introduction week for all new students in Groningen – was cancelled because of the Covid-19 crisis, student associations are working hard to come up with ways to deal with the repercussions. What alternative ways can they devise to introduce themselves to new students next year? What will the financial ramifications be, now that club houses have been closed for months?

We have to figure out a creative way to promote ourselves

‘Normally, most activities rely on physical contact. Since that isn’t possible this year, we’re hoping to find other ways to get our name out there’, says Hopmans. The annual KEI week is the best opportunity for all associations to shine and attract new members, so now many of them now find themselves in a tight spot. 

All parties involved in the extensive organisation of the KEI week – including the KEI board, ACLO, Erasmus Student Network, representatives of all student associations as well as the municipality – are currently brainstorming together. They hope to come up with effective, alternative measures that associations can take to promote themselves. ‘We just have to put our heads together and figure out a creative way to make it happen’, says Vindicat vice president Wibien ter Kulve. 

Hazing

While Vindicat doesn’t have to worry about financial ruin, they’ll also miss out on the most important week in the year to get first-years interested. ‘We’re thinking of sharing videos of interviews with current Vindicat members on social media channels to give first-year students an authentic impression of what makes our association so unique’, says Ter Kulve.

Dizkartes during the KEI of 2019

However, the hazing of new students, a tradition every single member of the old-established association has had to go through, won’t take place. ‘At the moment we’re preparing for different scenarios, because no one knows for sure how long this crisis will last. We’re thinking of organising some very small-scale events at a later point in this year so new members will get the chance to meet the older ones’, Ter Kulve says. ‘We’re certain that we will manage to establish a strong bond between new members, despite the distancing measures interfering with our traditions.’

Sneak peek

Laura Hofman, chairwoman of this year’s introduction committee for surf association SurfAce, has weekly FaceTime meetings to figure out a way to adjust to the situation. ‘We’re planning to post footage we already collected on Instagram to give prospective members a sneak peek of what they can expect when they join us.’ 

Our advantage is that you can keep your distance with windsurfing

It’s a strange situation, because the associations are trying to come up with alternative plans together, while they are also in competition with each other for the favour of the new students. Hofman, however, is confident that a large enough number of people will sign up at SurfAce. ‘Our big advantage is that you can keep your distance with windsurfing. It’s not a team sport.’ 

Normally, the associations also recruit members in spring. They haven’t been able to do that this year, so the pressure is on to reel in students during the KEI week. Board members from all associations are feeling extra stressed. ‘We’re afraid that it’s going to be difficult to stand out against everyone else’, says Hopmans. ‘It’s important to us to show up with something original. We’re thinking of organising an online beer tasting, for example.’

Bible discussions

Margriet Groen, external relations coordinator at Navigators, thinks that students will continue to appreciate the Christian student association, even in these challenging times. ‘The Bible discussions we normally have can’t take place now. Some members came up with the idea to produce our own podcast, with reflections on religion. They can still listen to each other, and I think that upholds the bond we as members of this association have.’

The promotion crew of Tjas

Cleopatra is also organising online activities to maintain the connection between its members. ‘We do things like online pub quizzes and movie nights.  We also have a dedicated server where people can go to and hang out. Kind of like a virtual bar’, says board member Lyan van der Velde. 

Online

All their efforts might just come up short, though. Almost all associations expect to attract less students then they normally would. ‘All of student life has come to a standstill’, says Marley van Dortmont with LGBT association Ganymedes. Even though Ganymedes also recruits outside of the KEI week, the secretary worries the association will suffer. ‘We’re unable to organise social nights and activities’, she says. ‘People can’t just drop by to get acquainted.’ 

All of student life has come to a standstill

The distancing measures are keeping members from getting that real, interpersonal connection, but associations are working hard to make new students feel welcome anyway. ‘No doubt, it is challenging to have meaningful communication online, but one thing we can assure students is that they will still make new friends here at Vindicat’, says Ter Kulve. 

Parents

But one of the biggest fears of the boards is that students may not come to live in Groningen at all. 

‘It’s a problem for the whole city’, says Robert de Boer, external relations coordinator at Frisian association Bernlef. ‘We anticipate that a lot of people will stay in Friesland. With lectures taking place online, they don’t have a reason to come to Groningen.’ 

Groen is worried as well. ‘If this keeps going, people will stay with their parents. It’s unlikely students will move to a city where they don’t know anyone. Especially when there is no such thing as a KEI week’, she says. With the pubs and clubs in the city closed as well, what does Groningen really have to offer?

It’s not like they don’t understand. Of course they do. ‘It is a pity, but there is nothing we can do about it’, says Van der Velde. ‘We simply have to go with the flow and see how events will unfold’, says Hofman. ‘Containing the spread of Covid-19 is a priority at this point.’

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