“Just being able to see each other physically makes a world of difference”

Rector Rianne Letschert talking to study/student associations about student well-being

24-02-2021

MAASTRICHT. Social contact, some more social contact and preferably a little social contact. There is a great need for this among Maastricht students. Any other conclusion was impossible last carnival Friday. Rector Rianne Letschert had a discussion with the chairpersons of a number of study and student associations as well as a few University Council members, teachers and an UM psychologist via Zoom about student well-being.

The aim of the discussion in a nutshell: how can Maastricht University improve student wellbeing more? A lot is already being done, says student psychologist and organizer of the Wellbeing Week Liesbeth Mouha. For example, the Student Services Centre (SSC) is offering a variety of workshops, there is a peer support system and a monthly ‘Well-being Wednesday with different workshops, lectures and sports activities.

Walking app
Jermain Kaminksi, assistant professor at the School of Business and Economics, was given the floor firstly to talk about an app that he developed. It randomly couples two participants to go on a walk together. Just taking a break from your screen. “This kind of social experiences are very important at the moment.” He knows for sure that it works. A similar app is already being used at the University of Amsterdam and it’s a success there, says Kaminski.

A world of difference
The students present feel that it could be useful, but it seems that they are prepared to grab onto anything that will expand their social lives even a little bit. Because indeed, things are not going well with the students’ mental health, says KoKo chairperson Maaike Hooghiemstra. She would prefer if studying at the association were allowed again, as was the case before the strict lockdown. “That was also a social activity. Saurus chairman Karel van Melle agrees: “Just being able to see each other physically makes a world of difference.”

There are study spaces available in the University Library, says Hooghiemstra. “Our protocols are ready and waiting.” She is sure that it would be safe to do so at KoKo. Studying at the associations will remain difficult for the time being, says Letschert. “Most likely, though, even more study spaces will be created by the University Library in the short term.” At this time, it has been made known that sixty students can come to Loods V on the Tapijn grounds.

And could the associations not organise something in the large lecture hall at SBE? Plenty of room there to keep your distance, says Van Melle. The rector is prepared to think about that.

Are you OK?
At Rotterdam University, they use the platform ‘Are you OK out there?’, says Lieke Troost, the chairperson of Helix – Biomedical Sciences’ study association. “This provides an easy way for students to get into contact with each other. To talk but also for yoga lessons.” The UM’s Student Services Centre has a similar platform, says Mouha, But this is clearly not known by all the students. The associations will bring attention to it on their social media, they all said. But maybe the tutors could also promote it during their lessons.

Telephone
Lastly, an idea from Jan de Roder, assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and University Council member on behalf of the academic staff: a special telephone number for students by students. “For people in need of a chat or who need to get something off their chest.” Sounds like a good plan, the students and also the rector think. Fenna Beulen, chairperson of debating society Gaius: “Good idea, but then it is important how you promote it.” It should have a low threshold where you can discuss anything. Not just one where you can only speak about deep and serious themes. About this the rector and the associations agree.

“Just being able to see each other physically makes a world of difference”
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