No red light for hazing
That conclusion came as a result of discussions among the RUG, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and student association Vindicat. Vindicat will be the first association to apply ‘critical self-reflection’ to the prevailing culture within the association. To that end, the corps will file their own report on what changes should be made and will enact measures to prevent excesses from occurring in the future.
A five-person commission will assess the document in March. If the ‘assurances’ from Vindicat are found lacking, the association could be rendered ineligible for financing from the graduation fund. This fund provides money for board members of associations in compensation for the delay they incur in their studies as a result of their association activities.
‘Room for traditions’
In late September, the RUG, the municipality of Groningen and the Hanze declared that student associations had to stop hazing. ‘What has occurred is completely unacceptable’, said RUG president Sibrand Poppema at the time. ‘It has to stop. We will bring an end to hazing in this city. These senseless rituals are over.’
According to Hanze president Henk Pijlman, the current plans are not yet ‘on paper’, but the commission will be posing questions, checking in on the associations and speaking with their members. ‘This is exactly the same as what we said we would do in September. We do not want to see any physical or mental injuries during the introduction period. But there must be room for traditions.’
Complete cultural change
Lentis chairperson and former police constable Martin Sitalsing will lead the monitoring commission, and the other members are RUG professor Michel Vos, Michèle Garnier (dean of the Academy for Social Studies at the Hanzehogeschool Groningen) and two members who were suggested by Vindicat: Dertje Meijer and Michel Ooms.
Sitalsing emphasises that the commission will not limit itself to the introduction period. ‘It’s about completely changing the culture. We want to revitalise the sense of self-regulation. That’s it. It’s just a matter of seeing how that process goes and whether or not it’s going right.’ The commission’s reliance on Vindicat’s own reporting on its activities is not a problem, he says. ‘Transparency plays an important role, and that has to assume a certain form. The members of the commission are from the RUG, the Hanze and Vindicat, but I will not hesitate to bring in external experts, too’, he says.
The new agreements will only be applied to Vindicat for now, but the RUG and Hanze want to enter discussions with other associations after March to create ‘comparable’ agreements for them. The parties hope to be able to finalise their terms before the beginning of the next academic year.
Help from professionals
‘The ball is now in Vindicat’s court’, says rector Stijn Derksen. ‘There is a consistent willingness to change. There is a lot of support for this within the association.’ But according to Derksen, it would be ‘premature’ to permit the media to see what goes on during the introduction period. ‘We have our secrets, but our norms and values are no different from the outside world.’
Vindicat will also endeavour to monitor the initiation practices in their student houses and among disputes. ‘We are trying to get a grip on the culture, but we have no direct influence. It’s a complex process, and we need help from professionals.’
The RUG, Hanze and Vindicat came together in recent weeks to discuss the ‘values, norms and future of the student social associations in Groningen’, according to the parties in a joint press release.
The motive for the discussions is the uproar which occurred after an aspiring member of Vindicat was seriously injured during the introduction period when another member stood on his head. The victim suffered a cerebral oedema, a dangerous swelling of the brain due to fluid build-up.
A ‘bang list’ and hazing photos from last year, published by the UK in August, also prompted the university to take action.
During the press conference, the word ‘hazing’ was never uttered by those present. The Groningen associations prefer to call it the ‘introduction period’.
‘I think that this is a first step’, says faction chair Bart Beijer of the Personnel faction. His party has called for the Board of Directors to bring an end to hazing for years now. ‘The measures they are taking do not surprise me, namely the possibility of cutting of funds in September. I think that things like a non-disclosure agreement for members and fines will be done away with. If they don’t get rid of them, then there is a serious penalty hanging over their heads.’
According to Beijer, the culture of inequality within the associations also has to stop now. ‘If you cannot break through that, then these excesses will continue to occur. But they must carry those changes on to the student houses too – otherwise, the culture will not change’, he says.