portrait of Bas Rooijakkers sitting on a bench
“What I'm uncomfortable with is the type of punishment.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Reducing ‘board months’ is an odd sanction for incidents at associations, says Bas Rooijakkers. In order to achieve cultural change, it is better to punish the perpetrators.

Lees in het Nederlands

The academic year has started and so too the initiations. This year the new students will get a introduction period like before. Now that things are back to normal, I hope for the student associations that the initiation phase goes without incident.

TU Delft has issued official warnings to DSC and Virgiel. DSC had already previously been subject to a sanction (in Dutch). At Virgiel, a naked student was thrown on a floor covered in broken glass. At DSC, hair caught fire and new members were doused in candle wax. This year, DSC was also not welcome at the opening of the academic year. While I agree that the student associations must be punished, I still want to stand up for them.

First of all, I want to say that the incidents that occurred should of course never have happened. I am not a member of either of these two student associations, but it seems to me that prospective members should at least feel safe. Every year, long queues to join these student associations form a day before the official registration even opens. Apparently, despite the incidents, there are enough people who want to become members. If so many students do the initiation, you would expect that it would go well and safely. TU Delft and the student associations have agreed to what is and is not acceptable. So if a situation arises, it is only fitting that there is a punishment or sanction. What I am uncomfortable with is the type of punishment.

If you really want to see a change in culture, the punishment must be more strongly focused on the individual

After an incident, student associations may not join the OWee introduction week and sometimes their ‘board months’ are reduced. This means that the board members get a smaller or no remuneration for the full-time year that they serve on the student association board. TU Delft’s rationale is that the board has done too little about the ‘culture of social insecurity’ and uses the sanction as a signal to the members that it is time for a change in culture.

I believe that this rationale is wrong. Although I have not been a member, I have often had conversations with the responsible board members. I believe that they really do try to give the signal that these sort of antics will be met with zero tolerance. If not out of interest for the new members, then in any case out of self-interest. The cost of one lost year of ‘board months’ is around EUR 3,000. If only this small group is punished, I do not believe that the message filters down to the members. It is an odd type of group punishment where the boss gets punished if you do something wrong.

If you really want to see a change in culture, the punishment must be more strongly focused on the individual. A student throws candle wax over another student and must be punished. It’s that simple. If you are deemed responsible for your own actions, everyone will realise that you have done something wrong. Now the students in question are often only suspended – briefly – from the student association.

It is of course difficult to distinguish whether an incident occurred because of individual action or because of the culture, but I think it’s too easy to blame the culture for everything. Some incidents occur in people’s homes. It is then strange to only punish the administrators and not the individuals. If I would push a fellow student off his bike, I hope TU Delft comes to me and does not punish all the student associations and groups that I am a member of.

Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.