A Possibility Made into a Reality – The Story of our Student Association

By Judith Harmsen

On the first of April 1999, the first board of the University College Student Association (UCSA) signed its official statutes. Within a single year after the first Liberal Arts and Sciences college of the Netherlands had opened its doors to the first 100 students, UCU’s social life was structured under the umbrella of the UCSA. Seventeen and a half years later, the UCSA counts 40 committees, organises biannual introweeks and has grown to 772 members in fall 2016. With the budget of the UCSA Board 2016-2017 approved and their long time plans formulated, it is time to dive into the history of our association.

“Our most important aim was to create a structure in which students could take their own initiatives”

One of the founding fathers of the UCSA is Simcha Jong, its first treasurer. He remembers how the UCSA was born from the need to structure all the student activities and groups that were popping up all around campus. It became necessary to have a single body of representatives for the communication with College Hall. “Our most important aim was to create a structure in which students could take their own initiatives,” says Simcha. This structure is still in place today and has allowed for substantial growth and a variety of new ideas to take shape.

Following the idea that the UCSA structure should serve student initiative, the second UCSA Board, as reported in a 1999 Boomerang, ‘aimed at stimulating existing and new-to-be-founded committees in order to improve campus life’. Interestingly enough, during the elections for the UCSA Board 2016-2017, one of the central topics was not how to increase, but how to decrease the number of committees. Has the UCSA’s aim become a victim of its own success ? With 40 committees and many more events, some students think campus activities have become too intense. “I feel that the more committees we have, the more events there are, which also causes more events to clash. This adds to the pressure students feel on campus to balance academic and social life,” says Sebastiaan Siegerink.

Despite the issue being  addressed in length by all candidates throughout the elections, it has not made it onto the long-term agenda of the newly installed board. Of course that does not necessarily mean the board will refrain from working on the overwhelming feeling that the activities of 30-plus committees can bring, but by installing three new committees in their very first month, they have shown campus that it is not the first thing on their list.

“UCSA is like the leader of a kindergarten”

Another goal of the UCSA Board 1999-2000 was to “establish external contacts, both with other universities and fellow student associations in the Netherlands and abroad”. However, the lack of connection to what goes on beyond the UCU gates was yet another topic that sparked debate during the last campus elections.  

“UCSA is like the leader of a kindergarten,” says Joy Dekker, “they provide so much that there is no reason to go anywhere else.” Does criticism like Joy’s mean that the goal formulated in 1999 – and many times thereafter – has never fully been reached? UCSA Chair Thijs Ringelberg thinks it is more complicated. “There are a lot of contacts on an organizational level,” he says, referring to the many sister associations in Utrecht, the University College Student Representatives of the Netherlands (UCSRN), but also the contacts the Acquisition Committee has made. However, “as a student you don’t really notice this,” he adds. Thijs and his board therefore want to create opportunities for students to actually interact with these external partners. “We are ready to take the next step,” says Thijs.

Whatever the result of that next step may be, it is safe to conclude that student life on campus is still buzzing. Although we are critical of our association, the variety (and mere number) of activities and committees seems to indicate that at least one important goal has been reached: to create a structure that serves the student initiative. That the motto of the UCSA is A posse ad Esse – from possibility to reality – seems nothing other than appropriate.

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