By Luuk van der Sterren
— Thirteen months have passed since riot police forcefully ended the Maagdenhuis occupation, during which University of Amsterdam (UvA) students and faculty took over the university’s administrative building. Their protest mainly targeted what they called the “financialization” of higher education. A number of students and staff from AUC were involved in the movement, setting up initiatives such as ReThink UvA and The New University AUC. Now, with the end of the semester around the corner, how do students at AUC look back on the past year?
“I think that people are more comfortable talking about politics than they were before,” said Matilda Medard, second-year Humanities major and creator of the infamous Boobie Bible. This Boobie Bible, a small booklet containing some fifty anonymized black-and white pictures of bare breasts, was made with the intention of destigmatizing female nudity. Medard feels that it was well received. “A lot of people [told] me that the Boobie Bible really got them thinking, that they now saw the point of the cause,” she said.
Medard also helped set up this year’s new Feminist Committee. Like the Boobie Bible, FemCom received an overall positive reaction. There were some concerns that people would be rude or dismissive, Medard said, “but that hasn’t happened at all.” Instead, the committee has managed to take some of the stigma out of feminism: “A lot of people feel like they have to identify as feminist to engage in discussions. With FemCom, we just want to introduce things people can get interested in no matter what.”
An indication of this destigmatization is the acknowledgment of this year’s Women’s Week as a Feminist project, Isi Frey, third-year Social Sciences major and another founding member of FemCom, said. “Last year, the word “feminism” wasn’t allowed to be part of Women’s Week. This year, we explicitly called ourselves “Feminist Committee” when we organized it.” Though she “didn’t think it would get accepted”, she is happily surprised that the message went over well.
Another example of a change in dialogue, Frey said, can be seen in this year’s Student Council elections. Last year, Frey herself ran for Student Council with Party Pleb. “We ran on a bit more of an antagonistic approach, trying to link AUC politics with what was going on at the occupations,” she said. “We got a lot of criticism, especially our call for binding power for students in policy making was very controversial.” This year however, “both parties running for SC agreed that students should have this binding power.”
There are more student initiatives that have stood out this year. Medard named Right to Education, a project aiming to open up AUC education to potential students who are from countries suffering from humanitarian crises, as an example. “It’s really impressive and cool,” she said. “It’s not just ideological, it’s hands-on and practical. And it’s not just about spreading an idea, but also about actually doing something.”
Medard’s feelings were echoed by Stijn Wilbers, a third-year Social Sciences major who serves as co-chair of AUC’s Student Council this year. Wilbers thinks the Student Council can play an important role in helping projects like Right to Eduction flourish. “I think AUC is a pretty active community; people have a lot of ideas and want to make them happen,” he said. Personally, he sees a role for Student Council in “facilitating and amplifying those actions.”
Other projects the Student Council has been active in are the introduction of gender neutral bathrooms at AUC and the project to make AUC’s canteen fully student-run over the next few years. Medard, who is part of the group organizing the student-run cantina, says she had hoped that there would be interest in making the cantina all-vegetarian. Not just because she is vegetarian herself, she promised, but also “because it’s just easier in terms of logistics.”
But, as an online poll the cantina workgroup recently held pointed out, AUC students are not quite ready to make that step yet. Nonetheless, Medard hopes that the new cantina will get students to eat vegetarian a little more often: “Hopefully, we can still change some eating behaviors.”