External agency to investigate culture at Tragos

External agency to investigate culture at Tragos

The results should lead to an improvement plan

22-03-2023 · News

MAASTRICHT. Student association Tragos has commissioned an external agency to carry out an investigation into its own culture, next month. The association wants to use the outcome to draw up an improvement plan, which should lead to the cultural changes that Maastricht University wants.

An improvement plan drawn up with external advice is a requirement set by the Executive Board for Tragos to become eligible again for their board grants (more than 30 thousand euro annually) and participation in university events, such as the INKOM introduction week. UM introduced the sanctions last September after reports of misconduct during hazing, when songs were sung of a “racist, sexist and discriminating nature”.

Commissioning an external party was also Tragos’s wish, chairman Thijmen Vermeer says. “We want our culture to be investigated with an open mind, with no tunnel vision.” The association has resorted to a Dutch agency that has previously screened the culture at other student associations. Next month, all members will be asked to complete a questionnaire about the standards and values that they think are prevalent at Tragos at the moment, and what changes they would like to see in this respect.

No force

Why is this only happening now, while the requirement set by UM dates back to September? “For the first few months, we focused on the initial steps towards cultural change.” This concerned, among other things, communication towards the members themselves. A page containing a code of conduct appeared on the website. “This already existed, but has now been revised. It is now more clearly described what we view as unacceptable behaviour.” It was only after that that the search for an external investigation agency was started. “This takes a lot of time. We had discussions with various parties.”

Using the results, which Vermeer expects to be available in a few months’ time, the association wants to have a meeting with the university. “To jointly look at what needs to be improved, and how we can achieve this. We feel it is important that we take our members’ wishes and desires as the point of departure. It won’t help them, for example, to force a training course upon them that they don’t agree with. Real change is only possible if it comes from the members themselves.”

Vermeer is hopeful that the improvement plan will convince the Executive Board. “We have also noticed that the members themselves want change. As an association, we want to keep up with change – things that may have been normal twenty years ago, are really not acceptable anymore.”

Incident

How did things go so wrong during the hazing then? “That was an incident. It occurred during a part of the programme in which the men and women were separated. Despite many warnings beforehand, a small number of male members started singing sexist and discriminating songs. One person threw a cup of urine. These eight members were removed that same night and have been suspended.” According to Vermeer, rumours of vomiting members or an appeal to grope the women, which appeared in various media, are incorrect.

In the period after the incident, he noticed that a majority of the members did not condone the suspended member’s behaviour. “Our female members no longer accept men making sexist remarks.” But completely preventing it will be difficult, he reckons. “We are doing everything we can, with codes of conduct and warnings. The question is to what extent you can be held responsible as an association for the excesses of individual members.”

The association will pay for the external investigation from its own pocket, in the same way as the board grants that they miss out on this academic year will be dealt with. “We need to dig deep for that. We cannot permit ourselves to not receive our board grants for the next few years as well. In that case, we would need to become much more commercial, which nobody wants. Our members realise now that things are serious.”

No participation in INKOM 2023

Tragos will definitely not be participating in INKOM, the introduction week for new students, this summer. The association informed the university of this fact by letter last week. Exclusion from INKOM was one of the sanctions imposed by UM anyway. However, participation was still a remote option. If sufficient improvements were made, cancellation of the sanctions before INKOM 2023 starts, is not considered impossible, Birgitte Hendrickx, deputy director of Student Services Centre, confirms.

The fact that Tragos itself has now decided against participation, is a logistic choice, chairman Thijmen Vermeer explains. “It takes a lot of time to organise a programme during INKOM. It is not feasible to develop two versions: one in which we participate, and an alternative programme.” That is why we are now focusing completely on the latter option.

According to Vermeer, this will be an interesting experiment. “We will see what effect the lack of INKOM events will have on the number of registrations. If there is little difference with previous years, we may consider if we even want to participate in future editions.”

Photo: Observant

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: tragos,association,sanctions,culture,investigation,inkom,students

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