“If things go wrong again, the university will be done with us”

A party at Tragos in August 2023

“If things go wrong again, the university will be done with us”

Chairperson on ‘cultural change’ at Tragos student association

13-03-2024 · Interview

“A lot and loud rejoicing” is how Tragos chairperson Max Beckers describes the reaction of members last Friday. During a reception, no less, at the end of the foundation day celebrations, he was able to announce the news that Maastricht University had restored its ties with the student association. Tragos can again claim board grants and participate in the INKOM introduction week. A relief, because “we have worked really hard on a cultural change. It is truly different now compared to how it was.”

It was the buzzword within Tragos lately: cultural change. Only if UM was “really convinced” that this had been implemented, said the Executive Board, they would lift the sanctions that were introduced in September 2022 after misconduct (consisting, among other things, of “racist and sexist songs being sung”) during the hazing. That moment is now reached, after eighteen months. “The university bided its time for quite a while, and I also understand that,” said Beckers. “I think that if things go wrong again sometime soon, we will lose all credibility and the university will be done with us.”

What have they done lately to convince UM? Beckers, sitting at the club’s conference table on the Fort Willemweg, starts at the beginning: the eight members involved were temporarily suspended immediately after the incident and the association’s sanction policies and code of conduct were toughened. “But the ‘good’ thing was that all members seemed to be ashamed of what had happened. How do you explain this kind of thing at home?”

So, the members themselves also wanted to see change. In the weeks after the misconduct, a ‘progress committee’ was set up, consisting of one male and one female member from each of the past four batches. The objective was to investigate what needed to change within Tragos.

Destroying the toilet

The committee’s most important deed was to commission an external agency to carry out an investigation into the association’s culture, including a questionnaire that was completed by “90 to 95 per cent of all active members” as well as group discussions in which “at least a hundred members participated”. Tragos did not let Observant see the report from the investigation, because it contains “privacy-sensitive information”. But, Beckers says, the results were “positive: the values of our members are in line with those of the university. The only thing was that they were not always expressed well enough at Tragos. The report clearly indicated how we could deal with this.”

How? “There was a need for more transparency and trust within the association. If everyone feels free to speak out, there will be more social control. In the past, a lot of things used to get broken through sheer rowdiness – the ceilings in the toilets were regularly destroyed. It is important that in such an instance even a first-year student dares to say to a senior student: ‘Mate, what are you doing?’ Or that a board member explains: ‘With the money from those repairs we could have organised great activities’. That is happening now, and you see that hardly anything has been demolished.”

It is not that there was no opportunity to speak out in the past, says Beckers. “But I understand that not everyone dares to do so at an AGM with three hundred people. We will now regularly sit down with fraternity and sorority boards and chairpersons from the year clubs, to discuss problems. You reach a lot more members that way and it makes them feel more involved in decisions.”

Hazing

Hazing, or introduction period, was also given a complete makeover. “With help from the Koninklijke Militaire Academie (Dutch Royal Military Academy), which also had to deal with serious incidents during hazing in the past, we restructured this whole process. The confidential advisor is more clearly present: anyone who has a problem with anything, can say so immediately. The members who help out are subjected to a stricter selection process, because they have to know the codes of conduct and values of the association in detail. There is also a more rigid schedule: everyone has a clear task instead of being able to do whatever comes to mind.”

The content is different too, with “much greater focus on the code of conduct and making it clear that everyone can be themselves within Tragos. Especially in the case of new members, it is good that we get through to them about this.” So, participants are now spending a whole week sitting meekly in a classroom? “No, the introduction period is obviously about creating solid bonds with students from the same year. But it is very different from before. The image of members shouting at participants all the time is not true. And it works: there were hardly any dropouts last year.”

Scepticism

Still, this all sounds like a familiar story. Student associations in the Netherlands have frequently promised changes after incidents, and equally often things went wrong again – also with Tragos. And then one of the rules is to observe secrecy about what happens within the association, including cases of misconduct. How do we know for sure that something has really changed? “I understand the scepticism,” says Beckers. “We are, after all, a traditional association, but our rules are also a sign of the times, there is no point in hanging onto the past. We have to look forward. Openness is a part of that. And yes, there will undoubtedly be former members who do not agree. And things will happen occasionally, just like on the street or in nightlife. But it is all about how members take action at a moment like that. In 2022, that happened way too late. Never in a million years will that happen again. UM didn’t restore its confidence in us just like that.”

This doesn’t mean that the cultural change is completed. “More trust and openness: it sounds easy, but takes a considerable amount of energy. To do so, you need more than eighteen months.” There is still an important role for the progress committee, which will monitor the change. There will also be regular evaluations with UM. “Cultural change will be an important point during the selection of the next board. Because it is fragile. You have to stay on top of it; if you sit back, you will fall back again.”

Photo: Observant

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: tragos,student association,misconduct,hazing,cultural change,students,instagram

Add Response

Click here for our privacy statement.

Since January 2022, Observant only publishes comments of people whose name is known to the editors.