Long Struggle to Reopen AUC’s Common Rooms: “COVID-19 Was a Perfect Excuse”

By Jana Naskova

Collage by Anna Sazonov

AUC’s common rooms and balconies were initially closed during the first lockdown in 2020 with the justification of following COVID-19 protocols, but remained closed even as restrictions were being lifted by the government until the beginning of this academic year.

The AUC student body’s dissatisfaction with DUWO’s handling of the common room situation was apparent throughout the one and a half years of closure. Many voiced their frustrations on Facebook – including 2018 graduate Ruben de Klerk: “The words ‘rational’ and ‘DUWO’ mix like lemonade and gasoline. You will die waiting for your explanation,” he wrote. Another alumnus wrote: “Rent strike when? Access to the common rooms is part of yall’s rent so DUWO is intentionally cutting y’all off from something you pay for.” 

Third-year student Nick Bolland started a petition to speed up the reopening of the common rooms. He is just one of the many students who made efforts towards their reopening. As he felt like individual student complaints on Facebook were not being heard by DUWO which eventually gathered around a 100 signatures. DUWO’s reopening plan was already underway when Bolland started the petition, but he says that he believes the process was far too slow and inefficient, with DUWO skirting around the issue. “DUWO never really talks to us directly about this, which has been very frustrating for everyone.” 

Bolland also questions DUWO’s motivations for keeping the common closed for so long. “It’s no longer about concerns over COVID-19. It never really was. DUWO was fed up with the untidy way in which common rooms and balconies were sometimes used.” Bolland believes that parents of prospective students coming on open days were calling DUWO and complaining. “DUWO wanted to solve that and never knew how. COVID-19 was a perfect excuse to close down all of the common rooms.” He found it particularly unfair that students were not allowed to do committee events in the common rooms,  “Last year, even when wanting to do a recording session with 7 to 8 people, we were not allowed to use the common rooms. We even proposed testing!” 

Bolland considers common rooms to be a crucial part of AUC’s dorm. “As a third-year student, I’m part of the only generation that knows what the common rooms and balconies were actually used for. Some of the nicest memories I have at the dorms are from there.” He believes that they are what makes AUC’s dorms unique.

The reopening of the common rooms that started in the academic year 2021/2022 saw the introduction of a new system for using the common rooms. String representatives are now responsible for holding the keys to the common rooms and balconies, as well as for the communication between DUWO and the people living in the string.

Sanch Sen, a second-year Social Science major and string representative explains that “DUWO wants one person to be the contact point for when things potentially go wrong in the common rooms.” She also had to agree on rules with her string. “Basically, AUC does not want the common rooms to be open at night. That’s when most people go into them, vandalize them, and put random stuff into them.” Sen’s string is open throughout the day, then locked at night. Afterwards, people can request the keys from her if they want to use the common room. 

Sen explains that the main purpose of the string representative system is to prevent damage and decay of the common rooms. “There was an infestation of bed bugs in one of the common rooms, so they had to get rid of all the furniture which also costs money. They are just trying to prevent stuff like that from happening.”  

According to Sen, each of the representatives had to attend a mandatory presentation conducted by Student Life Officers Marcus Smit and Danielle van den Tol. Van den Tol is a social caretaker at DUWO and responsible for handing over the keys and communicating with the string representatives about matters concerning the use of the common rooms. In the meeting they explained that the string representatives hold the responsibility for the common rooms. “If there is damage or vandalism, DUWO has to send a cleaning crew and then they want to charge the people in the string for that cleaning service. They need a point of contact to do so”, said Sen.

When asked about whether she thinks the string representative system will be effective, Sen finds that it is too early to tell, but thinks that it is a nice attempt from DUWO’s side to compromise with AUC students, while also creating responsibility and accountability around the use of the common rooms. “There’s some common rooms that are honestly disgusting because of the lack of cleaning and old stuff accumulating. The whole point was to redesign the system for it to work better.” However, she admits that it may complicate things and that the entire string representative process will have to be repeated next year once moving happens.  

First-year Humanities major Jessie Davies says that she knows of some people who have had problems getting the first meeting with van den Tol. While she finds the string representative system to be successful and thinks that the process of handing over the common room keys ran smoothly, she is concerned that the system puts the “pressure on one individual and this could be something that is stressful especially if there is a conflict over what to do with the shared area, as the string representative is ‘responsible’ for this space”. 

Also Bolland sees some problems with the new system: “Before the pandemic, a few people in the string had keys, and others would ask these people for them, which created connections. One person having the keys is inconvenient, as there is no spare.”

DUWO responded to Bolland’s complaint letter by offering him a meeting with Danielle van den Tol. He decided not to accept it.

DUWO did not respond to The Herring’s repeated requests for comment.

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