Skadi President Jolien van Haasteren got a bit of a shock in late September – when she had only just assumed the position of President – when she received a phone call from the university. A complaint had been filed about the club’s initiation weekend. Surely not, after all the horror stories about hazing rituals that had surfaced in recent years?
“Once I actually understood what the complaint was about, I was a little less shocked,” said Van Haasteren. “I would have been horrified if someone had got injured, or if someone had felt discriminated against, or personally intimidated. But thankfully, that turned out not to be the case.” Therefore, she does not think a complete culture overhaul, such as the one currently being implemented at RSC/RVSV, is in order. “We do not have a toxic culture, but we do want everyone to feel good during the initiation weekend.”
So what did prompt the complaint? The mother of a participant in Skadi’s initiation weekend for new members (known, due to its Dutch acronym, as the KISS weekend) wrote a letter to Erasmus University’s Executive Board. According to the Initiation Period Committee1, which investigated the complaint at the Executive Board’s request, Skadi’s weekend did not comply with the agreements concluded between the university and Rotterdam’s student societies2. Skadi’s weekend, the committee stated, had been overly physically demanding. Furthermore, the freshers had been sleep-deprived and fluid-deprived, and foul language had been used – swearing and songs that were ‘not necessarily emancipatory’.
“Let’s state first and foremost that Skadi does not haze its new members and that the majority of the weekend is a lot of fun. We absolutely do not yell at people and call them names,” said Van Haasteren. “That said, it’s true that certain matters could be improved. Obviously, our scenario says that first-year students must receive enough sleep, but if a dinner runs late, this means that the next morning’s activities must start later, as well.” The club always sings songs on the bus to the camp’s location. “Naturally, we sing the Skadi Song and the Rotterdam Song.” But every once in a while, the odd vulgar song will be sung, as well. “They are not discriminatory or misogynistic songs. They are just explicit,” said Van Haasteren. “But from now on, we will stick to the first two songs.”
She finds the complaint that the weekend was overly physically demanding harder to accept. “At the end of the day, we are a sports club. Everything we do revolves around rowing and winning Olympic gold medals, even on this weekend. After six or seven years at our club, our members will be at the level where they can vie for medals at world and European championships. This involves physical challenges.” However, she does realise that not everyone is capable of rowing at that level, or even wishes to. “For that reason, we challenge everyone to reach their highest potential, regardless of what level they are at.”
The complaint will not result in a major overhaul of the way in which the club is run. “We always critically evaluate the weekend. This complaint is mostly an external mirror that will help us do so,” said Van Haasteren. From now on, the rowing club will report to the Initiation Period Committee as well, which means, among other things, that the people supervising the weekend will have to attend several courses. The new KISS Committee, which will organise next year’s initiation weekend, has just been appointed, and is drawing up a new scenario for the weekend, taking into account the university’s guidelines.