For most, the coming of a new year is the time to reflect on their achievements, goals and progress. A select few people at the UT, however, have a much more tangible reflection moment not long after. The boards of the study associations of the ET faculty have just been, or will soon be, succeeded by their candidate boards. For many this is an exciting period filled with reflection, new ideas and enthusiasm, though it seems not everyone is so thrilled about this period.
In a recently published column, Niels ter Meer voiced his dissatisfaction with the culture in study associations. Aspects of study association culture and board life are drawn into question in more ways than one, even taking into question whether or not these associations are a net societal good or not.
Choosing to commit to a board year is an act of selflessness. Those interested in a board year voluntarily encounter up to a year of study delay, while making the conscious decision to accept the burden of responsibility for hundreds – if not thousands – of members. Keeping this in mind, is it that big of a surprise that those who have undertaken such an endeavour previously have come up with certain traditions and habits that to a lesser involved person might seem strange?
Candidate boards go through a period of roughly three months where they are being prepared for the challenges they will face throughout their board year. The majority of this period is spent on preparing the aspirants by showing them the ropes, introducing them to those people who will be relevant during their time as board members and making sure that there is a sense of belonging and teamwork within the candidate board. Candidate board clothing (often ties, sweaters or, in our case, purple toga’s to honour our namesake, the Greek inventor Daedalus) serves multiple purposes. Not only do they create a sense of belonging and connection between the members of the candidate board, they also make them instantly recognisable. This allows the members of the association to see who will soon be in charge of their association.
The culmination of the candidate board period is the change of boards, followed by a constitution drink. Ter Meer describes the appointment as ‘self-aggrandizing’ and ‘cringe’, which could not be further from the truth. The sudden realization that for the next year an association will be your full responsibility is as humbling as any experience can be. The constitution drink that follows the constitution of the fresh board is the perfect opportunity for other boards, friends and family to congratulate the newly appointed board members. These three hours of celebration are comparatively insignificant over the span of a board year.
In his column, Ter Meer describes the sort of timid, introverted, but dedicated student that would be interested in running an association but might be scared off by the traditions mentioned above. Not wanting to drink alcohol is being set out to be a limiting factor. After all, how could a board member possibly not drink alcohol, right? The way in which study associations are described as hostile environments for dedicated people who are not big into drinking and partying is downright disrespectful for all those (previous) board members who were those withdrawn types at some point. A handful of my recent predecessors match the descriptions of the type of student who would be discouraged from pursuing a board year by study association culture. Being aware of these supposedly brick-wall barriers, they still decided to dedicate a full year to helping their members with no expectation of getting anything in return and without receiving any complaints about the fact that they do not drink or party.
Labelling board members as egotistical people who live in their own little world filled with alcohol, partying and horrible traditions is detrimental to the image of associations. In my opinion, Ter Meer misses the point of study associations entirely. Study associations exist primarily for educational purposes and to improve the opportunities of their members. The way in which these associations are described throughout the column is not unlike the way their boards are made out to act. Stereotypes and preconceived notions are flung left and right. Somehow this is unacceptable when it comes to associations, yet very much allowed when it comes to these columns.