When I come across the words “cultural heritage”, I tend to think of buildings such as Taj Mahal, that Jordanian city carved from rocks or folkloric traditions such as rain-dancing, oil-wrestling and caber-tossing. So it was with some scepticism that I read a newspaper report published several weeks ago, stating that student clubs have been added to our national cultural heritage.

While reading the article, my mind was immediately cast back to the years I spent at my student club. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I once joined and I still see my fellow club members every month, but to say that the time I spent at my club contributed to my cultural education would be a lie. To the outside world, student clubs are often portrayed as bastions of elitism and guardians of tradition and intellectual development. Well, it’s true that most student clubs are still quite elitist: if you don’t attend a university or university of applied sciences, you won’t even be allowed to enter a student club, with the exception of the odd “open” party. It’s also true that most student clubs have tons of protocols and traditions, generally in the shape of unwritten rules.

But I can’t say I ever noticed any cultural or intellectual enrichment in all those years. A few debates at election time – that was about the size of it. After all, in the hyper-masculine atmosphere which is rife at most Dutch student clubs, debates tend to be settled by means of beer showers or sanctioned brawls rather than by means of summary speech. No wonder that a few senior members pointed out to me in a fit of nostalgia that the club house once had a reading table. When it comes to it, intellectual curiosity is hardly ever a match for the conformist quality of a student club. I, too, soon swapped my provincial crew cut for a more student-like downforce mullet.

Despite the recruiters’ nice promises about unique mentoring systems, student clubs are mostly places where young adults can have wild and subsidised fun. And that’s a good thing, be-
cause some things which happen at student clubs would result in an unpleasant lecture from your friendly neighbourhood cop outside the walls of a club house. So, despite our student clubs having been added to our national heritage list, let’s not expect any more from them than from your average beer hall or young-adult hang-out elsewhere in the country. Student clubs are places where you make valuable contacts, not to mention friends for life, but if it’s Hochkultur you’re after, you’re better off visiting a museum or two. They’ll even give you a discount if you show them your student ID.

Giorgio Touburg is a PhD candidate at the Rotterdam School of Management.