The state of the column

| Niels ter Meer

This column will be my last. This academic year, that is (sorry haters). So, to close off season one, I want to take these last couple hundred words to look back to what happened this year.


When I started in September, writing columns for a year seemed like such a daunting task. My first foray into the public arena was, obviously, a little scary. As a fledgling columnist, I first needed to find my footing — what to write about, what my style was.

As a columnist it is, of course, also important to peek at what your colleagues are doing. Reading what others wrote, I think there are just a couple types of columnist (notwithstanding those who manage to pull off a mix of these categories). You have the ones that stay close to their personal life — the slice of life columnists if you will. Then you have those who primarily write comedic pieces; either straight joke pieces, or approach actual problems with a comedic angle. But finally, you have those who look at the bigger picture, and have opinions about it.

That’s it — that was my style. I had found it. COVID policies, wire fraud, study financing, cum laude, sexual violence — I covered it all. But at some point, I hit gold: student culture.

I consider myself to have one foot in that life (I can’t really escape it, after all), and the other one solidly in that of a burger. Some student life rituals are just plain weird if you’re not deeply embedded in that culture. From that perspective, a bit removed from hard-core student life, some of my columns were written.

Maybe the hardest thing I’ve learned is what my role as a columnist entails, and how to deal with that. My role is to form an opinion on public matters, and write that such that it makes the UT community think and reflect. Backlash is sometimes part of that. It’s even a signal to me, showing that something I said hit a nerve (and maybe have some kernel of truth to it?)

The backlash was even interesting in and of itself, as it betrayed the sentiment of those lashing back. The common denominator between these was the intolerance of external criticism, and the extreme urge to refute that criticism — lacking any semblance of reflection.

A part of the UT community seem to have their cranium too far up their sphincter to recognize their own faults. They have placed themselves on such a high pedestal, that criticism hurts them in their own image of self-worth. There’s nothing inherent to activism that warrants automatic or unconditional praise. It takes place in public; there’s nothing that exempts it from criticism— neither time people voluntarily choose to invest, nor their good intentions. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But as an outsider, you are not allowed to have criticism, because you don’t sacrifice yourself like them; you cannot adjudge the value of their work or their experience because you have not experienced it yourself. Having contrary opinions must mean you’re part of the problem; that you must be acting against the public interest.

This all is not to say all I got were figurative (and sometimes literal) angry looks. I have had good talks with people whom I wrote about, and members of the UT community in general. I hope I inspired, made reflect, or otherwise made the UT community think about the events affecting us all — even those who disagreed with me. So, overall, I think the state of the column is good.

The UT community just has the luck — or misfortune, some would argue — to have ended up with me, the opinion columnist. There’s much more to write about, such as alcoholism, privacy, study choice regret, smoking, etc, but that will have to wait for next academic year.

Season two will, most likely, start broadcasting August 31st.