Twelve TED pitches during morning programme
MAASTRICHT. “Let’s fasten our seatbelts.” With these words, moderator Simone van Trier introduced the twelve speakers of the morning program during the Opening of the Academic Year. The Minderbroedersberg Aula was almost packed to the brim, the audience including the full board of Maastricht University, the mayor and the city alderman. The speakers were there to share their ideas on how to build a community.
The theme of the symposium was how to connect and engage people: Maastricht locals with students, refugees with residents, foreign with Dutch students, UM with the city and region, the University Council with the rest of UM, and so on. Every TED-like pitch contained its own solution. In his lively presentation Professor Herman Kingma, chair of the University Council, launched an app to boost participation in university politics: www.gosoapbox.com (password MBB). “It’s a way of promoting direct communication. You can give direct feedback to the council on any issue or question you like.”
Professor Leo Penta, president of the German Institute for Community Organizing and keynote speaker at the opening ceremony on Monday afternoon, described the presentation as “wonderful”, but at the same time was also critical. “An electronic solution is good if you’re already in contact with someone. But how do you mobilise people? You need everybody, but you can’t reach everybody. The question is: can you get enough people involved? You’ve got to talk about their interests. Communication and trust are keywords.”
“I’m aware that just using an app is not solving the problem”, Kingma responded during the closing panel discussion. “The crucial thing is to go to people directly and try to connect with their needs and questions.”
Later in the session, the Volunteers Portal launched its own app, called Maastrichtdoet.nl. The app is aimed at students and citizens who are willing to help people in need of a gardener for an hour a week, someone to pick up their groceries, or even just some company.
The Refugee Project Maastricht is already up and running, having been launched in March. It was initiated by Aurelia Streit (who won the annual student prize this week; see this article) from the Student and Society Initiative, in collaboration with the asylum agency COA and student chaplaincy InnBetween. “The project brings together people from different backgrounds”, said Arie de Fijter from InnBetween. “So far over two hundred students have signed up. We have dinners, a sports day, trips to town. One refugee who’s involved in the project told me, ‘Finally, after a very long time, I feel a bit normal again’.” De Fijter continues: “Students, we need you. You can build your own bubble and stay there. Or you can help a refugee to integrate in our society. And if you’re not a student: have you ever met a refugee? Join us, have a cup of tea, and your world will change.”
“Locals tend to think: students are lazy, messy, noisy, not a part of Maastricht society. Whereas students think: locals are arrogant, only speak in their Limburg dialect”, said Melissa Paasen from the Student and Society Initiative (SSI). “So there are a lot of prejudices. But both parties are wrong.” SSI aims to bridge this gap by organising joint events. The first one on the agenda is Chateau Maastricht, a beer fest scheduled for 31 October.
The United Student Associations Maastricht (Koko, Tragos, Circumflex, Saurus) has the same goal, Marlou Kerssens told the audience. “The citizens of Maastricht don’t always understand us, which is why we’re organising an evening for everybody. To show them around our buildings and explain our rules and customs. And to have dinner together – so don’t miss the Walking Dinner on 11 October.”
International students at UM are still waiting for their own International Student Club, which will open in 2018 in the Timmerfabriek. In the meantime, the International Student Network will be organising a Social Monday every week in the Muziekgieterij. “The idea is just to drink beer and relax. We have a pool table and a football table”, said Sebastian Kola.
“Community building is like starting a fire and keeping it burning”, said Maria Essers from the Neighbourhood Platform Argus. “It’s about kindness, tolerance and acceptance of each other’s differences.” She goes on: “Students are part of Maastricht. And yes, there are tensions, caused by differences in lifestyle, unfamiliarity and most often a lack of communication. We have three students associations in our neighbourhood: InnBetween, Lux ad Mosam and Circumflex. We communicate and organise events together.” One of them is a cooking event once every two weeks. “It’s been a real success. It gives you the chance to meet people and serves as a sort of medicine for loneliness.” In April 2016, when UM celebrates its 40th anniversary, Argus will unveil another way to keep the fire burning: a food truck.
At the end of the panel discussion, moderator Van Trier opened the floor for final thoughts from the audience. A first-year student of Health Studies raised her hand. She began by thanking the participants for the interesting morning and the warm welcome during the Inkom. “I have one question: Why weren’t we offered healthy food during the Inkom?” Martin Paul, president of UM, responded with a smile: “I may not look like a health food addict, but your point is taken. We’re talking about it. The hospital has already banned all junk food.”