“We were no angels either,” says Frans van Drimmelen, president of former fraternity S.T.O.A. with a hint of pride in his voice. “Which is a good thing, I’d say.” But he and his former members recognise themselves less and less in the tales they hear from their student offspring about the fraternity. Or rather: about the initiations. These often get out of hand. “They’re harder than they used to be, with more physical violence.”

‘Try being creative'

Van Drimmelen mentions this on Saturday during the centenary celebrations of his Amsterdam fraternity, which has not recruited any new members for twenty years. To enhance the festive spirit, S.T.O.A. organised a symposium in debate centre De Rode Hoed.

Speakers also included the Minister of Education, who appears rather critical. For her, the initiation process was a reason for her not to join the fraternity when she was a student. “But I’ve got nothing against the members themselves. Some of my best fellow ministers…”

“But I’ve got nothing against the members themselves. Some of my best fellow ministers…”

Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven

She’s very willing to take a nuanced view on the ritual, she says, but she does point to the excesses (‘sometimes criminal offences, in fact’) that have emerged in recent years, particularly at Vindicat in Groningen. The heart of the problem, she feels, is a sense and abuse of power, because that can be the risk if you suddenly give young, inexperienced people authority over others – with the task of humiliating them. It can be managed differently, she feels. “Being the meanest is easy. Try being creative.”

Initiations could certainly be a bit more creative, the (former) fraternity members in the room agree. But there’s something they want to emphasise: physical violence has been taboo for a long time. “In that respect, much has changed,” says president Thom Poorthuis from the Kamer van Verenigingen in Amsterdam. Members are always clearly told that they can go to the police if they are the victim of violence. “Obviously, that was an option in the past too,” says Poorthuis, “but these days we make it very clear that violence must not be resolved internally.”


part of special

Hazing in Rotterdam

In January, television program Rambam accused RSC/RVSV of abuses during its hazing…

Does verbal aggression go too far?

Things become more complicated when psychological violence is involved. When does verbal aggression, the shouting, go too far? Both outsiders – Van Engelshoven and Andere Tijden presenter Hans Goedkoop – draw the line at humiliation. Goedkoop says that for the first time in his life, he is among people who feel that humiliation is an acceptable way to treat people. He receives an indignant response. Former and current fraternity members agree: outsiders may feel the tirades are degrading, but that’s not how they are felt. No creative ideas for better initiation rituals are suggested by the guests in the Rode Hoed.

With regard to tolerance to ethnic minorities, the situation is just as complex. According to Ingrid van Engelshoven, initiation rituals were not designed to create a diverse company. “Anyone who’s different is out.” So before you know it, as a fraternity member, you are soon ‘surrounded by clones of yourself”. She feels that’s a shame, because after your studies you enter society, “and that’s much more diverse than the select company in your fraternity.”

Most of those present agree that the traditional initiation puts ethnic minorities off, but sacrifice initiations for the sake of diversity? The participants feel that would be going too far. Initiations are useful, according to the members.

But how can student associations become more diverse? “By talking to each other,” suggests one of the younger panel members. “What could we do to make you feel welcome? That’s something we ought to ask more often.”