By Koko Christiaanse and Koh Okuno
— The 2020-2021 school year began with many unprecedented features and challenges for AUC’s main organizational bodies. From the AUCSA’s creation of back-up “Corona plans” to Management’s routine Covid updates, much energy has been spent in adjusting the year to the “new normal”. Meanwhile, organized entities such as AUC Management, Student Council, AUCSA, and the Board of Studies have continued making new initiatives and continuing long-term plans. With Coronavirus measures becoming part of our daily routines, and a vaccine on the horizon, what can the student body expect at AUC in 2021?
For the AUC Management team, logistical adjustment has been one of the greatest challenges from the pandemic. They noted that structuring the timetable this year has been particularly hard with so many different factors that they now have to consider; capacity limits in rooms, the format of the classes, and availability of staff and students. Beyond that, maintaining community spirit after the transition to the online educational format has also been challenging. So far, they have been encouraged by the many ways students and staff have found ways to take care of each other: “It is to the immense credit of all our teachers, staff, and students that we were able to complete the year and end by celebrating graduating students.” The Management team also happily reported that average grades have surprisingly increased a little, but the slight declines in passing rates will require closer monitoring.
Their objectives for this academic year are clear. Firstly, they want to keep responding, carefully and promptly, to the changing situation of the pandemic; this seems to be their absolute priority. Secondly, they are enthusiastic about enacting the Diversity plan this year, “We are now working with colleagues and students to embed and bring to life our renewed approach to these important aspects of life and learning at AUC.” But the Management Team is also looking further ahead, laying the foundations for the Strategic Vision (5-year plan) and they agree with the BoS that the student and staff opinions will be integral to this long-term plan. Finally, they look forward to introducing the new Dean to the college in the new year.
Board of Studies
Beyond the annual revision to the Academic Standards and Procedures, the Board of Studies (BoS) is focusing on two issues this year: the diversity plan and AUC’s Strategic Vision. They are thrilled that AUC, has recommitted itself to making sure that it is an inclusive and anti-racist institution. In close collaboration with the Diversity Leadership group, the BoS will specifically be focusing on making the AUC curriculum less Western-centric and Euro-centric. The other priority for this year is drafting AUC’s Strategic Vision for the next 5 years, evaluating what they have yet to achieve and what objectives need to be added.
One of the BoS’ priorities this year is to improve communication. They are pushing the AUC Management team to update students on Covid policy more quickly and in detail. But they also see problems with their engagement with students. “It is really difficult to reach students, especially because of covid. I always fear that students don’t feel represented by me,” says Bluma Brecher, Vice-Chair of the Board of Studies. They hope to change this by organizing many focus groups and platforms for students and staff so that they will be an integral part of the Diversity Plan and Strategic Vision. Furthermore, the BoS will soon be on instagram and facebook, which Brecher hopes will “make us more approachable and create that image that we are easy to talk to.”
AUCSA, AUC’s Student Association, is currently focusing on bringing students together, as well as working on long-term plans. They started an initiative this month called “Winter Families”, in order to connect students in times of social isolation. Stijn Maathuis, president of the AUCSA says, “Our focus of this year is to start up and get everything going, our main pillar is the spirit of engagement.” According to Maathuis, a survey that the AUCSA conducted jointly with Student Council (SC) and Peer Support showed that many students were feeling isolated, often mentioning difficulty with meeting new people, especially in other year levels.
To foster inclusion and combat isolation in the AUC community, AUCSA started a “Winter Family” initiative to bring students together into a “family” for the winter break to participate in events together. Maathuis says, “We saw a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to go back home over winter break, which is quite heavy.” AUCSA hopes to continue this initiative throughout next year, either through a similar “family structure” or in a “buddy” format.
The AUCSA is furthermore working on long term plans, such as acquiring a central event space for the AUCSA in the Dorms. Maathuis says, “Other Dutch student associations have a societeit or something like it, a place to get together and host events.” AUCSA is currently in discussion with DUWO about making this long-term plan a reality. AUCSA is furthermore working on making their website easier to use for committees and reduce reliance on Facebook as means of involvement in the AUCSA.
Due to the Coronavirus, AUCSA cannot say with certainty whether certain committee events will take place next year. AUCSA has a step-plan (similar to that of the Dutch government) to ensure that committees have a “corona-plan” in case events cannot occur in person. According to Maathuis, large events such as Dormfest will likely take place in a hybrid form. He also encourages students to participate in online committee events, for example with a friend, in order for students to still feel a connection to the wider AUC community. Maathuis says, “There is so much happening still. To the student body I would say: Take it, it’s for you. Everybody is a member, try it out!”
This year’s Student Council (SC) currently has a variety of projects they hope to present by the end of their term, although the unexpected resignation of the dean will likely cause a delay in realizing them. SC will be part of the panel that will select the new Dean as student representatives. Laura Aker, Student Affairs officer, says not to expect something too unconventional, but that SC is looking for “someone with an eye for change for what’s best for AUC as an institution.”
Student council is currently pouring much energy into creating an official student council website, which will be finished next semester. Aker says, “we want it to be a space where we can create more interaction with students. We really want to create a space at AUC where people actually know who we are and what we do.” The website will primarily function as a forum for important information and resources to be compiled in one spot.
The resources SC is working on include creating one-page summaries for important documents such as the Academic Standards and Procedures. Aker says, “AUC documents can contain a lot of information, we want to make it clearer and less intimidating for students.” They will also create resources to aid international students settle in the Netherlands, for example, a step-by-step manual to apply for tax exemptions or to apply for insurance. They are also working on a Learning Disorder Manual and a Mental Health Guide in collaboration with the well-being team, which will be a guide on how to get therapy in the Netherlands. Other resources include guidelines on how to apply for off-campus courses and guidelines on how students could switch tutors.
Student council is furthermore working behind the scenes in order to hold management accountable and represent a student voice in AUC’s internal affairs. For example, SC works closely together with Management on AUC’s Diversity action Plan, in order to ensure promises made by Management will be met. SC is also first to comment on the annual budget and the Student Handbook. However, Aker says incorporating student voices isn’t always easy to do; “it’s very difficult to tell people: we are your main line of communication between you as students and the management team. We are open to so many ideas and really like input and feedback. But it’s difficult to get that if nobody wants to talk to you, and especially now, it’s very difficult to reach students.”