In some Minerva debating societies and student houses, first-year students are required to swig jenever (Dutch gin) when they show up too late at a social. And occasionally they’re even expected to down a bilnaad-adje: gin poured along another member’s arsecrack.

It’s one of the examples extracted by NRC Handelsblad from a recent study into Minerva’s association culture. Another excess to make the papers is that some year clubs force first-year students to run stark naked through their society hall.

The Minerva board wants to break free from this culture, according to an internal email sent out to its members. That’s why they advocate redrafting the association’s ‘corps byelaws’. The Leiden fraternity/sorority isn’t the first association to commit to some serious introspection. Some corps associations have actually been forced to do so by the administrators of universities or universities of applied sciences.

Hierarchy

“Society is changing, and this is a good thing,” responds Matthijs Kneepkens, president of the National Chamber of Associations (LKvV). Its members include traditional student associations like Minerva. “The associations need to adapt to these developments, otherwise they will lose their current enviable position. They won’t make it if they remain set in their ways.”

According to Kneepkens, society attaches a different value to hierarchies than it used to, for example. And the associations are no exception. “In the old days, hierarchy played a far stronger role in the public sector, the private sector – you name it. Nowadays, we attach far more importance to a well-substantiated opinion, even when it comes from someone who technically ranks lower in the hierarchy. And you can see the same trend in student associations.”

But surely that’s a different story than sexual harassment and forced drinking? “That’s changing too. Associations have an even stronger focus than before on creating a safe environment for students. And excesses like intimidation and discrimination are absolutely out of the question in this context. We can see a culture change taking place in student associations all over the Netherlands.”

Abuse is incidental

“You need to distinguish between the two. Abuse is incidental – it isn’t intrinsic to the culture. None of the association cultures I’m familiar with are OK with manhandling people. It’s more a question of the mood, the culture. I can imagine that people see a link between the two, but that’s barking up the wrong tree.”

Is serving drinks via someone’s arsecrack a common pursuit in student associations or would you call that an incident too? “To be honest, I’ve never experienced anything as festive as that. Associations are filled with young people who engage in all sorts of cockamamie student antics. And occasionally they take it too far, at which point the board decides it has had enough. Well, then the members usually dream up something better – and have just as much fun doing that.”

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