What were club evenings like when members weren’t allowed to come to the clubhouse for months to have their drinking sessions?

On 15 March, the then Minister for Healthcare, Bruno Bruins, stated that “All places in the Netherlands where people can eat and drink must close their doors at 6pm today.” Once that press conference given by Bruins and Arie Slob (the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, representing ChristenUnie) was over, normal life pretty much ceased to be for student societies, too. They were no longer allowed to host club evenings, which is basically the reason why they exist. “That was weird. We pretty much lost our raison d’être,” said Jelle Mooij, the president of SSR-Rotterdam.

People soon started taking the initiative to do things online. “Pub quizzes, beer tastings, karaoke nights, movie nights. There were plenty of things to do. Some things were more fun than others, but we tried to make the best of the situation. After all, we did want to stay in touch with each other,” said RSG president Fleur Doolaard.

However, as time passed, people grew bored of those things, as well. “Once you’ve spent a few evenings in front of your laptop with a beer, you’re kind of over it,” said Mooij. Then, finally, the 1st of June came along. Student societies and their clubhouses are considered pubs, which means they are subject to pub regulations. As a result, they were allowed to reopen as of 1 June, where possible, as long as they complied with applicable restrictions. RSG and SSR are doing just that. “We assign our members to different days of the week. Every sub-society gets one evening at the clubhouse, and two weeks later, we start on a new cycle.” RSG has implemented a reservation system and also has an outdoor seating area accommodating thirty people.

‘It was funny to see how people became more open to other, more serious matters during the quarantine period’

Tristan Gayral (Laurentius)

Skadi has gradually begun rowing again, Wouter van Dam says. “Ever since we were given the green light to start working out again, subject to certain restrictions, we’ve been rowing in single sculls. We hope to start doing more of that in the coming period, and we’ll see if we may be able to start using multi-person boats at some point.” Coming to the clubhouse to enjoy a few drinks is not an option for Skadi at present.

So how are the members currently spending their time?

Since going to the clubhouse wasn’t an option for such a long time, what were the members doing, other than being diligent students? We found in our conversations with representatives of all the societies we polled that students have become ‘more serious’. Several members of the societies’ boards said that the societies ‘wanted to give back to the city’ during the coronavirus crisis. For instance, Laurentius and RSC/RVSV have their own charitable foundations. Students are investing more time in these foundations now that people are quarantined, said Laurentius’ Tristan Gayral.

So what did these foundations do? They sent cards, organised guerrilla markets, delivered food packages, helped children do their homework, looked after children while observing 1.5-metre physical distancing rules, etc. “Families were under increased pressure, so we wanted to help out with that,” explained NSR’s Laureen Goedbloed. “It was funny to see how people became more open to other, more serious matters during the quarantine period,” said Gayral. “On Liberation Day (5 May – ed.) our society delivered five thousand tompoucen (traditional Dutch custard slices – ed.) to its neighbours. That was so cool. I really hope we’ll continue to do things like that.”

Goedbloed found that the members of her society grew closer in a way. “Since we’re a Christian society, we often discuss God when we’re being serious. But our members led very busy lives. They were always going places and meeting people, so that aspect sometimes suffered. Due to the coronavirus crisis, they have found a more profound level of spirituality, since they’re discussing important life questions and God more often.”

Societeit RSG coronaproof
The RSG clubhouse in times of corona. Image credit: Feba Sukmana

How will the societies be impacted by the crisis in financial terms?

Since the clubhouses had to close their doors, the societies missed out on a great deal of income. “Normally at this time of year, we have about 500 people in the house three times a week,” said RSC/RVSV’s Guido van Winden. “So we lost a lot of our income.” As for SSR, “People stopped hanging out at our bar, so we lost all the income generated by the bar. Like every other business, we’re losing turnover.”

The societies say they are not experiencing serious financial difficulties just yet. For instance, RSG and Laurentius outright own their clubhouses, so they don’t have to worry about paying rent. Also, they have sufficient reserves. However, they will have to recruit many new members next year, so as to make sure they keep earning some income. “That’ll help the society continue as usual. The people who’ll be joining us next year will be on the board and sub-committees three years from now,” Laurentius’ Gayral stated.

What will the societies be doing during Eurekaweek, which is normally one of the highlights of the year for them, because of all the new members signing up and all the parties being thrown?

Eurekaweek is of huge importance to most societies, because this is when they recruit their new members. It’s the one week in the year when all first-year students are allowed to visit the various societies to see what they are like. At present, the university’s Eurekaweek Organising Committee intends to offer a ‘blended’ Eurekaweek programme, i.e. a mix of online and offline activities. It is not yet known what this year’s induction week will be like; a lot will depend on how the coronavirus crisis unfolds in the next few months.

The societies have a few ideas of their own on what kind of activities they will offer during the induction week. RSC’s Van Winden explains, “We will also provide a lot of information online. For instance, we’ll launch a new website, post online marketing on Instagram and create podcasts.” Laurentius, too, plans to host a podcast, and also to organise a live stream of a DJ playing at the clubhouse. “We’ll see if our houses can contribute somehow – if there is a way for them to receive small groups [so that they can come and have a look].”

‘You need the hazing to get familiar with and be properly integrated into the society’

Jelle Mooij (SSR)

For its part, NSR is considering allowing first-year students attending the Eurekaweek activities to spend the night at the houses where its members live. “That’ll give them a bit of a feel for what the society is like. The society can’t organise many activities at the moment, but what few activities we do offer are attended by small groups of people. We could allow the people staying the night to attend those.”

Students who are interested in rowing are free to contact Skadi members online even now, says Skadi’s Van Dam. “We’re looking forward to being able to welcome prospective new members at our clubhouse, because that’s the best place to get a feel for the vibe of the society, and also the best place to see what the rowing is like. I hope the university and the municipal authorities will continue to discuss our options with us and be flexible.”

Will freshers still be hazed? And if so, how?

Yes, they will. The societies feel the hazing ritual is indispensable. “What we want is to create a tight-knit group of members who’ll continue to be active members of the society for a long time and who’ll end up in the right place. We don’t have much time to do that, and hazing is a good way to do so, so we’re having the ritual, and we’ll come up with a way to make it coronavirus-proof. Which will also depend on the status of the lockdown at the time of the hazing,” said Gayral (Laurentius).

SSR, too, believes that hazing is an important ritual. “You need it to get familiar with and be properly integrated into the society. You do need to get some background information on the society you’re seeking to join. So this year, our hazing activities will mostly focus on that.” NSR is planning to divide its hazing activities, which normally last one week, in two half weeks, with half the prospective members attending the first half week, and the other half the second half. The society also intends to erect more tents than usual at the hazing location so that it will be easier for the students to comply with physical distancing regulations.

So what will the hazing activities be like? The societies are not keen to discuss the nature of their induction week and hazing activities in much detail. So that’s one thing that will not change. What happens during the hazing rituals must be a surprise to the prospective members, and a mystery to everyone else.


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