News - September 24, 2009

What makes student societies popular again?

Student societies have grown enormously. This is sweet music for the societies of course, but how did they become so popular?

First-years of Ceres in the Herenstraat in 2000
Anne Muyres, chairman of the national chamber of associations (Landelijke Kamer Van Verenigingen, LKVV): '
We have indeed noticed a trend among our member societies that the memberships of first years have gone up. The average increase in this country is 12.5 percent from the year before. Groningen, Tilburg, Leiden and Wageningen are the blockbusters, with an average increase of 30 percent. The growth could have resulted from the LKVV's move to get more students into social clubs. We are still trying to find other reasons for the growing popularity. Big student towns such as Amsterdam, Delft, Eindhoven and Utrecht, however, have no growth.
Koen van Swam, chairman of KSV St. Franciscus:
'Students have turned to the societies more and more lately because there aren't many other leisure activities in Wageningen.
Student societies are the places to make new friends. It seems that Wageningen is increasingly being seen as a nice student town in this country. A few students had already signed up at the start of the AID. So they already knew that they wanted a student club before then. Politics and the media could also have influenced their choice. There has been so much harping on about studying hard and doing well, especially with the 'Harde Knip' (where a student has to obtain his or her Bachelor's degree before starting on a Master's course). When students discover during the AID that there is more to university life  than that, they are more likely to join a club.'
André Godkewitsch, students' physician for Wageningen University and psychotherapist:
'Apparently, awareness has grown that joining a student club is a good thing to do. I don't know how this development came about, but I'm very glad about it. The student societies have proven that they are useful and necessary. They do come with some negative influences such as excessive alcohol consumption, but their positive influences are greater. Students come here alone and not all of them have good social skills. Being a club member gets them into a social network and opens up possibilities. The friendly atmosphere also helps a lot so they don't have to be alone anymore. Feeling happy in a social setting is very important. A good disposition affects your mental health, and vice versa.'
Marthijn Broelis, chairman of student club Osiris in Leeuwarden, the biggest student club in Wageningen UR:
'We have 176 new members, thirty more than last year. It's not surprising that so many students have signed up. Osiris is the only student club at Van Hall Larenstein in Leeuwarden and is linked to the education system. Students get career points during their years in VHL. You need to chalk up sufficient hours to get these points, elsewhere or with us. For example, points are awarded for organizing talks, workshops and parties, or for taking part in committee activities. I don't have the exact explanation for the growth within student societies. It could be that community building is becoming the 'in' thing. For example, we too try to boost contacts between lecturers and students. We organize lecturers' get-togethers and publish a newsletter to keep university staff updated about our activities. We get many positive reactions.'
Dr. Noëlle Aarts, senior lecturer in Communication Strategies in Wageningen University and endowed professor of Strategic Communication of the University of Amsterdam: ‘My daughter studies in Amsterdam and the numbers of students there who join societies is also very striking. She and her circle of friends have done so too, and in fact already made their decisions in secondary school. They think that friendships and social relationships are part and parcel of a student club. Young people are very keen to get in touch with other people. Currently, there is also this increased desire to be part of smaller local communities. It’s like a reaction against globalization which instills feelings of loss of control over our habitats. Then we have individualism which, in my eyes, is a puffed up ideology which creates feelings of uncertainty, and maybe also unhappiness, in many people. People are social beings. We regulate our identity by interacting with others. In fact, several developments are coming to a head, leading gradually to a transition point. You aren’t considered an idiot anymore if you join a student club.’
Gijs Bonarius, president of W.S.V. Ceres:
‘Ceres has 157 registrations even before the introduction period, significantly more than in the previous years. It’s not that exceptional since we also saw a growth last year. But we can now safely say that we have got out of the dip we were in a few years ago. This could be because excessive ragging activities, which had given student societies a bad name in the media, have not taken place for quite some time.  I believe that stories about abusive ragging have disappeared from the face of world. Perhaps it’s also the modernization of the education policy of Wageningen UR. The woolen-socks image is passé. Nowadays, students come from the city, where club culture is more common. Wageningen attracts students who are more dynamic and who do not shun club life.’
Pieter van Kuilenburg, chairman of SSR-W:
‘I don’t know why so many first years want to join a club. We too have grown enormously. After the AID, we decided to stop signing up newcomers and still ended up with 118 new registrations. If you ask old students at a reunion which part of their time here was the best, they often say it was knowing everyone by name. So if a club grows too big, it will lose its character. On the other hand, we are having a whale of a time here, and we want to share this with as many people as possible.’
Text: Alexandra Branderhorst and Tom Rijntjes