According to the university, the student association had ‘crossed socially accepted boundaries during its initiation ceremonies’ and ‘systematically withheld information’ about its transgressions. That is why at the end of 2013, SSR received an official warning with a three-year probationary period, as well as an urgent request from the rector magnificus to subject its hazing practices to an intensive review. In the event of a repeat offence during this probationary period, SSR’s recognition would be suspended with immediate effect – similar to what happened to RSC/RVSV this year after the Rambam broadcast about their hazing practices.

A push in the right direction

SSR was given this provisional penalty for failing to observe agreements between the association and Commissie Kennismakingstijd (Introduction Period Committee, KMT), which monitors the associations’ initiation ceremonies with regard to safety. Among other things, these agreements focused on eliminating ‘offensive language’ and reducing physical complaints like neck and back pain caused by participants having to remain in the same position for too long.

This sanction wasn’t preceded by a concrete incident, says current SSR president Jesper Rijnja, who was still in secondary school at the time. “The association didn’t learn enough from the mistakes it had made. We clearly needed a push in the right direction.”

Neck and back complaints

‘You can imagine that having to stand and listen for hours on end leads to neck and back complaints’

Nina Orlic, SSR-preses in 2013/2014

Nina Orlic had just started as president when she was confronted with the provisional suspension back in 2013. “There are nicer ways to start your year on the board,” she says with a smile. Looking back: “At it was, we were already discussing possible changes to our introduction period within the association, but now it had become a necessity.”

A lot of first-year students who had joined the association suffered from neck and back complaints during the initiation period. “That was because our programme was far too passive,” says Orlic. “During the introduction period, we give you a lot of information about the association – meaning that most of the day, you are forced to stand and listen. You can imagine that having to stand and listen for hours on end leads to neck and back complaints. We have tried to prevent these complaints by making the programme a bit more active – with more physical activities and teambuilding exercises.”

Collective memory

President Jesper Rijnja and vice president Loes Rojer in the boardroom of SSR-R Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

At the time, Orlic formed a sounding board made up of former chairs and members of SSR’s novitiaatscommissie (initiation committee) – to structurally review every section of the playbook for the introduction period. And this group is still active, explain Rijnja and vice president Loes Rojer, although it presently enjoys a more formal status as Advisory Board. “This way, we hope to keep a critical perspective on our introduction period and ensure that the activities are all in line with the underlying objectives: to get to know each other and SSR and strengthen ties with fellow members and the association.” Orlic is pleased that the initiation ceremonies are supervised by a formal body.

“From the outset, we have tried to make this an on-going process. Because an association’s collective memory doesn’t go back much further than the three or four years that its members are studying.”

Sealed envelopes

‘We want to completely do away with all complaints that occur due to our introduction programme’

Vice-preses Loes Rojer

Rijnja realises that it is crucial to keep reflecting on an association’s hazing practices: “We’ve all heard the stories about abuses within student associations – from the ‘soot hood affair’ in the 1960s to the present day. And you tend to think: that sort of thing wouldn’t happen here. And fortunately, it doesn’t – but we have to do everything we can to prevent it from even being a possibility.”

As a board, can you always prevent things from going awry? Yes, according to both board members, but they’re the first to admit that some students still report physical complaints during the introduction period. “We want to completely do away with all complaints that occur due to our introduction programme – so we’re not there yet,” says Rojer. “But these complaints aren’t necessarily all caused by the hazing rituals themselves,” adds Rijnja. “Occasionally, first-year students don’t tell us about a specific medical condition. I can understand that you wouldn’t want to brief your new friends on every aspect of your physical wellbeing on the very first day.” That’s why the association presently works with sealed envelopes during the initiation period, which can be opened in case of an emergency. “This way, someone doesn’t have to share all his medical complaints straight away, but we can still provide an effective response if something goes down.”

Backward ceremonies

‘Claiming that SSR’s hazing rituals are completely up to date, would be a stupid thing to say’

SSR-preses Jesper Rijnja

Another point of concern among many student associations is house initiations and weekends organised by their disputen (debating clubs). “As the board, we bear responsibility for everything that happens within the association, but since we aren’t physically present at house initiations or club weekends, we can’t monitor what goes on there.” Over the past few years, the board has tried to address this by means of a covenant that states, among things, that the association can suspend members who ‘cross the line’. “But what’s more important is that we can remind houses and disputen of their responsibilities,” says Rojer. “And that we can learn from our mistakes as an association,” adds Rijnja.

Indeed, you won’t hear Rijnja claiming that SSR’s hazing rituals are completely up to date. “That would be a stupid thing to say. We need to keep moving with the times, and societal norms are constantly evolving too. Every association should be aware of this.” Although he admits it’s not easy to change traditions. “But they’re not sacrosanct either, and fortunately we enjoy a lot of support when it comes to reviewing our introduction period. After all, our members also attend those family birthdays where some aunt asks: ‘So, did you also participate in one of those backward ceremonies?’”