They filled lecture theatres with their first debates about the future of agriculture and GM crops. Now the pioneers of the Critical Students Wageningen association (CSW) are ready to expand. ‘If you are going into the summer vacation seriously overtired and totally broke, you know you need more people.’
‘What a long time it takes!’ CSW initiators Moira de Klyn (27) and Patricia Lemmens (25) had hoped for faster service in the Forum. But Moira still joins the queue at the Grand Café, shaking her head. ‘Organizing debates is great fun and very educational. But it does take a lot of time and energy.’
It all started with a moment of intense anger back in 2012. Moira: ‘I had graduated and had just got back from holiday. I came home, read the paper… And there was that article by Aalt Dijkhuizen in De Trouw [in which the then CEO of Wageningen UR argued for intensive agriculture, ed.]. I thought: ‘What?!’ Patricia laughs: ‘She really was very angry.’ Moira had to go into action. ‘In opinion I am the total opposite of Aalt. I am quite rebellious.’
‘Aalt Faalt’The demonstration she organized – ‘Aalt Faalt’, or Aalt fails – drew about 40 protesters. Moira: ‘We were not so much demonstrating because we didn’t agree with Dijkhuizen, but to show that other opinions than his do exists within our university.’
In response to ‘Aalt Faalt’, Dijkhuizen invited the demonstrators to engage in discussion with him. Moira took on the preparation for this together with a friend, Nout van der Vaart. ‘The Wageningen Debate on the Future of Food Production’, with experts such as Imke de Boer and Lijbert Brussard, was a success. ‘C222 in the Forum was packed out and the media were there,’ says Moira. ‘That gave me the motivation to carry on. I thought: ‘Now I have caused a commotion. I must do something else to keep this alive.’
PluriformAt the next debate Moira organized, on genetically modified organisms, she was helped by Patricia. ‘She was totally focused on GMOs in her thesis,’ says Moira. ‘We really needed each other.’
Patricia: ‘The discussion about GMOs drew a packed house, too. Afterwards we heard from science students that social issues are hardly ever brought into their courses. They know all about cutting and pasting with DNA. But when it comes to the various points of view and sensitivities that go with it among the general public, it seems that not everybody is aware of them.’
Patricia and Moira decided to continue organizing debates together under the name Critical Students Wageningen. The aim: to introduce students to a range of points of view on the life sciences and to fuel discussion on them. A central recurring theme is the food problem, on which CSW organizes debates under the title ‘Dealing with Food’. All their meetings are aimed at promoting an image of Wageningen UR as pluriform.
PrejudicesAccording to Moira, for instance, there are still prejudices about certain degree subjects. When asked which Master’s she wants to do, Moira says: ‘Just write Agroecology. The thing is…’ The ex-Droevendaal resident leans forward. ‘Patricia and I are doing the kinds of degree programmes… She is doing International Development Studies, which sounds so slanted. And if I add that I am studying Organic Production, they think: there they go again, those Droef hippies. But we are not a radical leftwing activist group. Critical Students Wageningen is an inclusive movement which aims precisely at creating space for divergent views.’
Patricia: ‘It can sometimes be difficult to find participants for our debates. We want speakers from the top of the business world, the sciences or the government, who really have something to say. But perhaps they think: ‘Will I find myself becoming a target?’
Moira: ‘But we are not out to point the finger of blame. We want to conduct an open, honest discussion.’ Moira says she herself is ‘much less radical’ thank she used to be. She wants that reflected in the photo that accompanies this article: ‘We must just confer about our dresscode, Patricia.’ Moira takes off her panther tooth necklace for the occasion.
CSW summer debatesA discussion will be held in OIrion on 5 June between Jan Steijn, a researcher at FrieslandCampina, and CLM director Wouter van der Weijden. The subject of discussion will be the future of global food distribution and nutrient flows. This event will be followed on 22 June by a debate on the potato market with speakers including Jan van Hoogen, general director of Agrico, and Michiel van Geelen, Greenpeace campaign leader for agriculture and food. This discussion will be held at BioRomeo, an organic farmers’ association, in Ens. Moira: ‘Nice, in the north-east polder.’ Patricia: ‘Then you have an outing as well.’
Curious about CSW’s activities? Go to https://www.facebook.com/criticalstudentswageningen