By Cille Kaiser
— Over a month into the new academic year, AUC’s Student Council is preparing to host their first big event as a new team. What have they been working on in the run-up to this event, and what are their visions for the coming year? The Herring talked to four Council members to find out more about who they are, what they do, and what their running projects are.
This year’s Student Council, which was announced on the 20th of May 2016 after 110 AUC students had cast their votes, consists of Sofija Stefanovič (co-chair), Ellen Ackroyd (co-chair), Sarah Stapel (secretary), Fatiya Munkaila (external communications), and Rayan Vugdalic (internal communications). Second-year Social Sciences student Ackroyd, who was third on her party’s list and did not expect to be elected into the council, replaced Matilda Medard after she decided not to go through before the start of introduction week and the new school year as a whole.
According to their webpage on MyAUC.nl, the Student Council is “the representative body for the students of AUC, [bridging] the student body and AUC’s Management Team, the faculty, the VU, UvA and other external parties such as DUWO”. The Council’s tasks include representing the student body in official management meetings and creating platforms for students to voice their concerns themselves. According to Stefanovič, a second-year Sciences major, students have more agency than they often realize. “Students are an important stakeholder when it comes to making important decisions”, she said. The Student Council is there to provide the room and support for students to take up this position. Their biggest running projects, including the sustainability of Right2Education and the realization of the student-run canteen, all include a lot of work and initiative on behalf of the students, under supervision and support of the Student Council.
One of this year’s Council’s priorities is to increase its visibility, both online as well as around AUC. According to Stefanovič, AUC students were largely unaware of what the Student Council did these last years. Stapel, a second-year Social Sciences student, agreed: “Even me, I wasn’t aware of who was on the board and what they were doing”, she said, “even though they were doing great things. They were able to create a lot of positive change at AUC, but this wasn’t properly communicated”. Stefanovič also said that the Council’s visibility and presence is important in stimulating student initiative. “[It] is the first step towards making sure that there is good input and that there is enough input,” she said.
Make the focus groups work
This year’s Student Council has recently announced its first big event, which will take place on Thursday, October 13th at AUCafé. During the event, Stapel explains, the Council plans to “introduce what focus groups are and what [they] plan to do with them”. Focus groups are platforms where students can voice their concerns and ideas concerning academic matters at AUC. Ackroyd explained that there is a focus group for each discipline (i.e. Social Science), as well as for Academic Core, Community Projects / Internships, and potentially for course evaluations. Focus groups existed in the past, but this year’s Student Council saw the need to revitalize them: one of the goals is to increase the focus groups’ fluidity — to “[give] people the opportunity to talk about something and not necessarily be committed to it every week. Hopefully by making it more fluid we can encourage more active participation”, said Stapel. Additionally, Stefanovič said this year’s Council focuses on encouraging more teacher participation as well. “That is one of the important changes for us”, she said, “to make sure that the focus groups are seen as a collaborative effort”.
Another past initiative that this year’s Student Council plans on actively sustaining is Right2Education, a student project that has now grown into an official non-profit foundation. The initiative, set up by eight AUC students, was launched in January 2016 when 30 refugee students (also referred to as guest students) were welcomed at AUC to follow courses and be a part of the community. Although this foundation has its own internal- and advisory board, the Student Council has made it a priority to see to its sustainability. “One of the main problems [at AUC] is diversity”, said Ackroyd, also one of Right2Education’s founding members. “We all come from a pretty similar socioeconomic background, we’re all pretty privileged people that can afford this university, and I would really like some more minority socioeconomic groups”. Ackroyd said that she can also use her position in the Student Council to help spread the initiative to other University Colleges across the Netherlands.
A Student-Run Canteen?
This year’s Student Council has also decided to pick up on the ‘Student-Run Canteen’, an idea that has been under discussion since the beginning of this calendar year. “It’s something that we took up from the previous council”, Stefanovič said. “We are planning on re-assessing it and see if people find it important still”. The plans for the new canteen include more vegan options, job opportunities for (international) students, and an improved cafeteria space. “If we have a choice [in supplier] we would obviously love to go organic”, said Ackroyd. Vugdalic, a second-year Social Science major, said “the objective is to pinpoint what students are looking for, how to make it fit their desire/needs, and then to do everything that is possible as student council to make it happen”. The project is still a work in progress, but Stefanovič explained they are currently in a good position to negotiate because the current canteen is running at a loss. “It is really a win-win situation”, Vugdalic said. “Right now, we have a canteen that people are not fully happy with. If we make it better, or at least more tailored to our needs, then it will also be a more profitable place for the company that runs it!”
A Collective Work
Stapel said that this year’s Council has not yet introduced new ideas or projects, but that right now that should not be a priority. “Our views are very similar to [those] of last year’s Student Council, we really think their projects were great, so we’re also very willing to continue [those]”, she said. “In order to enact change, you can’t just have one year and start all over. You need to be able to work together.” The Council expects that new ideas and initiatives will present themselves – until then, they have enough work in the projects that they picked up from the previous Council. “We don’t want to be too ambitious, we don’t want to make too many promises. We actually want to make stuff happen, not just talk about making stuff happen”, said Ackroyd.
Although the Student Council is currently focusing on sustaining projects that already existed, Ackroyd stressed that there is always room for students to raise their voice and bring up new initiatives. “We really want students to know that if they have an idea, they can come to us and we can really help”, she added. “Them making noise is them manifesting their agency”.
For more information on the Student Council’s goals and ambitions, also including a solidarity fund, the master’s database, and Voices of AUC, have a look at their webpage on MyAUC.nl.