Last year, het Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps and the Rotterdamsche Vrouwelijke Studenten Vereeniging merged after more than a century of segregated history. They also rebuilt their premises in Kralingen, and there were incidents during the 2017 initiations, resulting in severe university sanctions.
The RSC/RVSV receives neither board member bursaries nor a grant for first-year students and is not welcome at university ceremonies. Neither may it participate in the Eurekaweek programme, the definitive annual event where associations recruit new members. So they are currently celebrating their own party, the Entreeweek. They built an outdoor café at the club that’s bigger than ever, rented the Annabel pop venue on Monday and Tuesday, and made every effort to recruit new members despite their absence from the Eurekaweek.
“Overall we’ve done a lot of work this year,” says Schothorst with pride. And it seems that new students are still able to find their way to the association. Six hundred first-year students are sleeping in RSC/RVSV association houses during Eurekaweek, far more than in previous years. “Our domain name is eurekaweek.nl, which of course helps,” chuckles the incoming president. “But our strongest recommendation is word-of-mouth advertising.” To spare those in the vicinity, the parties were moved to Annabel on Monday and Tuesday, only background music is played in the outdoor café, and the association closes at around seven in the evenings. It’s only on Wednesdays that they organise the traditional unsegregated evenings, as they’ve done every year.
Best of both worlds
Sparing the neighbours is a must, given the many complaints about noise last year. “People walking home after having a drink still tend to shout a little in the street,” says De Lange. “We’re trying to solve this by implementing more security surveillance of the routes.” Neighbours also complained regularly about the pounding music. A major renovation is intended to remedy these complaints. The ground floor has now been completely soundproofed, and the association is working on a similar plan for the upper floor, and on creating a larger hall and a better passageway.
De Lange: “Lots of work, but I also found it interesting. Who gets the opportunity to organise such a huge renovation at my age?” Since De Lange shared the plans for the renovation with the neighbourhood and promised that only background music would be played until then, no further complaints have been received. “We can now play music downstairs again, which is particularly what the ladies want,” adds Schothorst. “And we hold the drinks evenings upstairs in the large hall. That’s also part of the student life atmosphere at our association: enjoying a beer together, chatting and socialising together. It’s now really the best of both worlds.”
The best of both worlds. The incoming and outgoing presidents could say the same about merging into a mixed corps. “I was certainly worried in the beginning that the merger would cause us to lose something that was already very good,” admits De Lange. “But actually it went very well. Right from the start it seemed as though it had never been any different. And although we’ve opened an extra evening in the week, it’s busier than ever.”
“My housemates previously never went to the soos, in fact,” says Schothorst. “But now that it’s mixed and busier, they often come.” The mixed aspect also creates a different atmosphere, says the Belgian. “I get the feeling that the men and women are interacting in a more normal way. We see lots more friendships. When I was a member of an unsegregated club, of course you knew all the guys, but it was a bit more distant. The mixed aspect has caused the association to become more moderate, with a more pleasant atmosphere.”
One of the men’s traditions that Schothorst says has enriched the association, is the custom of having the president tell a story during the evenings in the room, sometimes as often as three times a week. “It was great fun for all those girls to see Tobias standing on the table to tell a story. It really is a new tradition for the mixed association. And we’re also looking forward to a woman standing on the table next year,” she says, referring to herself. The RSC/RVSV will be headed by a man and a woman alternately. Schothorst is the first woman to address the gentlemen of the RSC in more than a century.
Last year De Lange told stories like this more than a hundred times. This week he’s looking forward to Wednesday evening, the traditional evening for addressing new freshmen. “I have to convince as many people as possible to register for the association. That will be a serious bit of advertising for the RSC/RVSV, in front of a thousand people no less.”
There have also been difficult issues, notes the outgoing president. “It’s also the opportunity to address the whole association or to make members aware of something that’s going on.” Last year girls were occasionally harassed on Lusthofstraat, while walking home from the club. “These are annoying stories. You want to let your members know, warn them and make it possible to discuss the subject.”
part of special
Hazing in Rotterdam
In January, television program Rambam accused RSC/RVSV of abuses during its hazing…
One day in late 2017 the telephone suddenly rang. The TV programme Rambam (BNN-Vara) was calling. The producers had embedded ‘undercover freshmen’ in some of the Dutch association initiations, and the picture of the RSC they painted wasn’t good. In the programme aired on 11 January 2018, Rambam reported that a student with a head injury had been taken to hospital by ambulance, prospective members had to check each other’s anuses for ticks, and that they were hit on the head with shoes. “It was all very exciting,” recalls De Lange of all the media attention. “I had never been involved in any media contact. Then suddenly you’ve got the whole of the Netherlands clamouring for your attention.”
It soon became clear there were gaps in Rambam’s broadcast, which is also what the RSC/RVSV itself concluded. “It turned out to be fairly incoherent,” according to De Lange. Nevertheless he believes that apologies, like Rambam eventually had to offer to Utrecht, aren’t necessary. “There really was nothing inappropriate happening in Utrecht, and people were personally accused of lying; in our case it was directed specifically against the association.”
What’s more, things did go seriously wrong at the Rotterdam association. During the 2017 Eurekaweek an incident had already been laid at the society’s door. A Eurekaweek guide was violently removed from the site. The victim alleged she had been kicked in the stomach. The ‘Kennismakingstijd’ (familiarisation period) committee concluded that the RSC/RVSV had not given the victim adequate care and aftercare, having left the case to the police, as the victim reported.
There were also incidents during the Introduction Period, as the initiation is called at the RSC/RVSV, at the end of August of the same year. In one case a first-year reported to the board that he had been grabbed harshly by the throat by a senior from the Introduction leadership. The perpetrator was suspended for 15 weeks and is no longer welcome at activities relating to the Introduction Period. Another prospective member was taken to hospital by ambulance during the initiation. The student had been grabbed by the collar by a senior during press-ups and became unconscious. He was also shouted at before help was called in.
“Things always happen in a large association,” says De Lange. “You can’t justify that it happens, but sometimes it’s also impossible to prevent it. You can’t rule out the possibility of something going wrong. For me, the most important thing in such a situation is that you deal with the victim correctly, and with the person who’s doing something to someone. I think we did that after the Introduction Period.”
Rambam’s broadcast did certainly open the association’s eyes, believes De Lange. “Everyone saw that we were being put under the microscope: now see what they’re saying about us. That did actually help in creating support for a cultural change, and in introducing changes to the Introduction Period”. Thank you Rambam. “I wouldn’t want to say that,” he grimaces.
The board called in an external agency to assist in a change of culture. “It’s nonsense to think that with your few years of academic experience you can direct that.” In collaboration with the agency, talks were held with members, a goal was formulated and a path was mapped out for it. “The objective is to assign more prominence to why you become a member of an association, and to move matters of which we are less proud into the background.”
Yes it’s all a bit vague, as De Lange himself concedes. But he only wants to say more on this in September, once the introductory period is over. “It’s time for me to draw a line under this story, and I’m very enthusiastic about the trajectory on which we have embarked, but suppose something happens nevertheless? This will undo all previous messages. Nor do I want to put any pressure on people by dredging up all sorts of things here.”
The imminent initiation is an important test moment. Not only for the association, but also for the university. How this introductory period unfolds will also determine whether the measures against the RSC/RVSV remain in force. “Restoring ties with the university is my first priority,” says Schothorst.
Any number of changes to the programme should ensure that less goes wrong. “I think it’s very positive that we now have a completely mixed introductory period. The men and women are mixed during both the camp and hall weeks. I think the association really needed it,” says Schothorst. “We also want to see more emphasis on humour and the creation of a year’s bond,” continues De Lange. “And physical contact will no longer be accepted at all.” If it does happen, sanctions will instantly follow.