The board of STAR – Europe’s largest study association – works from the assumption that events will have to remain online for the time being. STAR chair Thom van Dalen: “We’re adhering to all the national guidelines and remain in close touch with the faculty and the university. Our calendar is gradually filling up, but for the moment, we only have one large-scale event planned: the STAR Management Week. This year, the entire programme will be held online since we don’t want to run any unnecessary risks.”

Sorely missed: social interaction

According to Van Dalen, what STAR’s members miss most is face-to-face interaction: “Both the students and we as an organisation get a lot of energy out of this.” Still, he’s pleasantly surprised to see how resilient everyone has proven so far. For example, despite the rather disappointing turn of events, the committee responsible for organising the STAR Management Week has remained in a buoyant mood.

Cedo Nulli chair Bas van Kreuning

Van Dalen explains that the main challenge lies in determining what students need most right now and how the association can help them in that respect. But answering these questions is sooner said than done, concludes the STAR chair. “It’s an on-going process – which will probably continue until we start returning to normalcy.”

Bas van Kruining, the chairman of Cedo Nulli, agrees that the lack of social interaction is an acute problem within the university’s study associations. “When we recently organised our monthly social – with due adherence to the government measures – it was fully booked within a matter of minutes,” says Van Kruining. “At the start of the year, we were still conferring with the faculty in an attempt to organise face-to-face events wherever possible. But after the prime minister’s most recent press conferences, we moved everything online. And as a board, we’re doing everything digitally too.”

Study groups becoming popular

Social activities may be more difficult to organise in a digital environment, but online study-related meeting are gaining more and more traction. For example, Van Kruining notes that since the start of the pandemic, Cedo Nulli’s study group sessions have drawn a growing number of participants. During these sessions, students can ask a senior to explain points in further detail in preparation for an examination. They’ve become more popular since the outbreak because a lot of students find it harder to study in an online environment. “Studying via Zoom is more complicated than on campus, so I guess students appreciate the opportunity to go through the subject matter with a senior-year student who has a firm grasp of the ins and outs.”

Marked differences between students

While large associations run into considerable difficulties when it comes to scaling down their events, this poses less of a problem to smaller associations. “We’re one of the smallest associations, and in a sense this is to our advantage,” says Stijn Voogt, chair of the Philosophy faculty association ERA. “It’s a bit easier for us to stay in touch with our students and the faculty. This allows us to effectively respond to the various restrictions.”

This close collaboration with Erasmus School of Philosophy comes with its own benefits: for example, thanks to their representative body, Philosophy students were able to reserve a spot to study at the Kaapse Maria when this bar was still open. Voogt: “This allowed students who weren’t able to study on campus to still get out of the house to study. And it’s an interesting example of the collaborative economy. Kaapse Maria would normally open for business at 5 p.m. – so why not let in students looking for a quiet place to study in the hours beforehand?” In addition, ERA has set up a buddy system where new students are assigned a senior-year student as a mentor. This gives everyone the opportunity to stay on track in their programme.

Still, it isn’t all roses according to Voogt: “Occasionally, we’re forced to prepare an event four times before it can actually go ahead. And some of our members have started to lose touch now that they no longer run into each other. We’re trying to mitigate this loss of face-to-face interaction by offering digital alternatives.” Although he does see ‘a schism’ within his association’s membership: some students are fine with the transition to dial-backed student life, while others dearly miss the gezelligheid (cosy togetherness).

Forced to innovate

FAECTOR chair Daan van Regteren

FAECTOR chair Daan van Regteren recognises the issues sketched by his peers. While members miss the social events organised by his association, they continue to attend online activities relating to education and career choices. “You’re basically forced to innovate. Suddenly, you need to transfer activities that have always taken place in a physical setting to an online environment,” notes Van Regteren. And occasionally this goes surprisingly well: the online application procedures for committees were very well received, for example. “This allowed students who weren’t in Rotterdam at the time to still apply for a seat on a committee.”

EUR’s study associations have joined strengths in the umbrella organisation KORF. As the KORF chair, Van Regteren represents the associations in consultations with the university and the municipal administration. “We’re kept in the loop reasonably well. For example, we recently had a meeting with Mayor Aboutaleb. By now, the Municipality understands that to effectively control this outbreak, you need to involve other players besides the student associations. For example, in the case of study associations, hospitality restrictions play a far bigger role. For the simple reason that we don’t have our own society halls. At the same time, we represent a huge number of students – which is why it’s good that we’re taking part in these consultations.”