New rector wants to be proud again
Vindicat says they’ve changed.
Floris Hamann says he was never ashamed of Vindicat. But he always wasn’t always very forthcoming about being a member. ‘None of us would volunteer the fact that we are a member to other people in our class. Not that we’re ashamed, of course. But we don’t always have to talk about it.’
As soon as you reveal you are a Vindicat member, you’re on the defensive against people’s negative preconceptions. Floris just didn’t always feel like doing that. He didn’t want to explain, again, that he’s not a stereotypical frat guy and that the association does some really good stuff. ‘If I don’t say anything, I don’t have to explain anything either.’
But Hamann has come out of the Vindicat closet for good. Now that he’s succeeded Cappi Wefers Bettink as rector of the oldest and most infamous student association in the Netherlands, everyone knows exactly who he is: the man leading the ‘new’ Vindicat. He has to make sure that the culture of ‘openness and transparency’ takes root. ‘It’s a great thing to work towards’, says Hamann. ‘We want to make sure that people can talk about their frat with pride.’
Over the past year, association members have worked hard to accomplish that goal, say business economics student Hamann and new abactis Wibien ter Kulve, who studies international relations and internationals organisations. Sitting on the spacious roof terrace at club house Mutua Fides, they explain how they held and analysed surveys, took action, even changed traditions.
They held dialogue sessions led by external consultants. Small groups of students – seniors, first-years, girls, house leaders – were called upon to give their input on the reformations. ‘To make sure that we know how to improve Vindicat and make it an even better place’, says Hamann.
All of these actions were sorely needed. After a long list of incidents – the ‘bang lists’ in 2016, trashing a sushi restaurant, and several cases of violence in 2017 and 2018 – the RUG withdrew Vindicat’s accreditation, the university’s official approval of the club. This cost Vindicat 33,000 euros in committee grants and banned them from official university events. It was quite a disgrace.
Things were looking up for the association in June of 2017, when they were given temporary accreditation. The committee tasked with evaluating their accreditation application, led by Martin Sitalsing, said it had seen a ‘widely supported willingness to change’. They weren’t there yet, but if they worked just a little bit harder, they could count on full accreditation the next year.
I think the current generation of members is more aware of the role we have in this city. That wasn’t the case six years ago.
But when September 2018 rolled around the committee did not mess around. They condemned what they perceived to be lack of urgency to minimalise the use of alcohol, ‘in spite of the express need for this’. Internal surveys revealed intimidation, inappropriate touching, and slut-shaming in the Kroeg (Vindicat’s bar); the club had no clear policy to combat the behavior. And their internal justice system continued to effectively prevent reporting of serious incidents. ‘The board takes no responsibility, even though we’d agreed that they would independently report incidents like these’, the committee wrote.
What happened? Did Vindicat even take the accreditation committee seriously? ‘We certainly don’t take it lightly!’ Hamann rushes to say. ‘We were really upset that they took our accreditation away. We’re still upset about that. And I really think we started to move towards making these plans concrete last year.’
But it’s not easy to change the ways of a two-hundred-year-old association that has two thousand members. ‘I think the current generation of members is more aware of the role we have in this city. That wasn’t the case six years ago. And that really contributes to the way the members and the board feel about the situation.’
Hamann was in his second year when the whole mess started in 2016. Ter Kulve had just finished her hazing. ‘Everyone was talking about it. It was a really bad time.’ So he and Ter Kulve joined the club’s senate. ‘We want to show that we’re not all the same and that we can do things differently.
‘We’re sending in our new application in two weeks. We wanted to get it done before the summer holidays, but we decided not to after talking to the accreditation committee.’ ‘They wanted to see us go one more introduction period.’
That is probably for the best. This year’s introduction period has gone smoothly and without incidents, and Hamann is confident that everything will be put right. Vindicat is truly committed to change. ‘We’re not just doing this for the accreditation.’ ‘We started the year external to the university’, adds Ter Kulve, ‘but that made us realise that we needed change.’
For example, they have overhauled the internal justice system. It wasn’t just the accreditation committee that didn’t have any faith in it; the surveys and dialogue sessions showed that the members had their doubts as well. ‘It was too complicated’, says Ter Kulve. ‘Procedures would take a long time.’
We’ll never protect the perpetrators. If victims want to press charges, we’ll always help with that.
In the old system, it took three weeks to process a violent incident, which meant the victim had to cope with seeing their attacker at the club during a time ‘when what you really want is to get rid of that person as quickly as possible.’
Under the new system, the senate swoops in to gather statements as soon as an incident occurs. Next, they’ll propose a consequence, such as a month’s suspension (the punishment for stealing someone’s coat). The club’s legal body, consisting of law students, pronounces the sentence. And that’s it. For more difficult cases, there’s an advisory committee consisting of fifteen former members to help. ‘We can now process these incidents within a week’, says Ter Kulve. It might take seventeen days, at most.
The new system has been developed in conjunction with the members and has wider support. ‘We’re being really proactive’, Hamann keeps repeating. ‘We’re reporting everything to the proper authorities. We’ll never protect the perpetrators; we will support the victims in the action they want to take. If they want to press charges, we’ll always help with that.’
They have taken other actions to make Vindicat safer, particularly for women. ‘We can’t have people feeling unsafe here’, says Hamann. Three weeks ago, they instated three external confidential advisers. ‘The abactis used to be our confidential adviser, but if anyone feels unsafe with her, they can go to an external one.’
They organised sessions to discuss issues such as depression, drug use, or homosexuality. Girls are being encouraged to apply for positions within the association. ‘We have only had three female rectors since we merged with women’s association Magna Pete in 1970, and that’s not okay’, says Hamann.
What about alcohol? Have they abolished alcohol during the introduction period?
Aspiring members definitely aren’t allowed to drink, Hamann says emphatically. When it comes to camp leaders, half of them are expected to stay sober. ‘Active leaders can switch with people on stand-by’, says Hamann. ‘They’ll be sober from one in the afternoon until one o’clock the next day.’ Both main camp leaders will make sure the rules are followed. ‘There is no way for people to sneak a drink. If they find out you’ve been drinking anyway, you’re gone as camp leader, you’re kicked off any introduction committees, and you’re suspended for violating the behavioural code.’
They’re taking the cultural change seriously. But Hamann also realises it’s a gradual process, not a sudden change. ‘We’ll have to take it step by step, have a long-term vision.’ But no matter how hard they try, Vindicat still has two thousand members: ‘There’s always the chance of something happening that we can’t control. But we hope that our new approach shows that we’re doing everything in our power to change.’