Amsterdam Student Association registrations rise, undeterred by controversy

Even with the recent controversy, it seems like the Amsterdam Student Association is more popular than ever, as hundreds of new students showed up to register in the last week of July. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, lines were reported to be as long as ten meters. With physical registration being mandatory, many students showed up, all vying for just under five hundred new membership slots. And just like in previous years, it is safe to say that there are more registrations than available places.

Still, the social norms of the Association have come (not for the first time) under scrutiny. During the 34th lustrum partyin July, hundreds of members reacted with shock to sexually degrading statements made during speeches delivered at the men’s dinner. We will not repeat them here, but the statements were extremely derogatory and violent towards women. There were also some rather explicit acts performed on stage during the dinner. A large group of over 200 women present at the dinner left immediately and, the next day, wrote a public letter denouncing the behaviour of the speakers.

Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema called the behaviour reprehensible and unacceptable and called for the association to provide a safe environment for the current and new members, especially women. After other controversies earlier in the year, Amsterdam University and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences had already decided to withdraw all grants, following abuse and intimidation during hazing last summer.

The traditional student associations, including those in Leiden, Groningen and Utrecht, are usually important breeding grounds for those who will end up in important government and industrial positions. However, Crown Princess Amalia, who is starting her studies in Amsterdam this year, has decided not to become a member of the student association, after she had previously stated in her biography that she would like to join the association. The decision has come on the heels of the recent controversy.

Amsterdam Association still popular
Even with the controversy, it seems that the Association is attracting more members than available places. The question to ask is why cancel culture hasn’t reached its doors yet. Are Dutch students not fazed by an association with a track record of abuse and misogynistic behaviours? 19-year-old Gert said: “I don’t approve of what was said during the speeches, but that’s no reason for me not to join this association. I have two sisters and I don’t call them such names.” 18-year-old Fleur, who will be studying PPLE at UvA – the same course that Princess Amalia is taking – said she never hesitated to sign up. “Things are happening everywhere that shouldn’t happen. I really think that something is going to change, there is no other way,” Fleur seemed to stay hopeful about the future of the association.

In fact, it seems that many who are hopeful to join the association see the benefits of joining the association. There are those like Gert, who want to become entrepreneurs and see the association as a place for meeting important contacts for future endeavours. Others see joining the Association as an opportunity to find housing, because the Associations owns many properties in the city. Yet others, like Fleur, want to make the most of their student days by being a part of such a vibrant association.

“Change is coming?”
The Association has made changes in its leadership. First, the Chair of the Board, Heleen Vos, resigned from her position. She had vowed drastic culture change last year, but withdrew, disillusioned, immediately after the dinner. She stated she didn’t want to bear responsibility for behaviours that exceeded her boundaries. The Vice President also resigned, when it was reported to have given the speech calling women names. A new Chair, Annemijn Oskam, has now been appointed.

Apart from the change in leadership, some practices have been reconsidered. For example, the hazing of this year’s newmembers will be different: there will be no night activities and purposeless activities like keeping members awake unnecessarily. Extra supervision will be rolled out during the hazing period.

Written by Stephen Swai