Antwerp students and locals find common ground with new pledge


Antwerp city officials and local student clubs signed a charter in 2009 to limit the nuisance of initiation events. That charter has now been expanded with an important clause

Student life in the city

The number of students who live and study in the small, cosy historic quarter that rings Antwerp University and the city’s graduate schools continues to rise every year. Every year, more and more students also participate in the initiation-related rites of the city’s 95 student clubs.

The activities organised in public places as part of these initiation rituals, however, frequently irk locals and bystanders. That’s why in 2009 student clubs signed a charter with city hall to limit nuisance and promote a more positive message about student life.

“It was originally created because arrangements had to be made with respect to the initiation of students into student clubs; otherwise things would have gotten out of hand,” education alderman Claude Marinower explains. “There were no rules in relation to locations, hours or dates that the initiation could take place, and this frequently caused quite a nuisance. This year will be the eighth time the charter has been signed, and the results are getting better every year.”

Last year, a new, extra clause was added to the charter. Respect voor A-buurt promotes mutual respect and goodwill toward everyone who lives, works and studies in the university surroundings.

“One of the problems in Antwerp is that, because it’s such a big city, students would perform their initiations everywhere from tourist hotspots to quiet, neighbourhood squares,” Marinower explains. “There also wasn’t a specific period in which the hazing took place; it all depended on the student society.”

Following the inclusion of the new clause, city officials and the students came to an arrangement to end the free-for-all. From now on, all initiation-related events must take place between 28 September and 23 October, between the hours of 10.00 and 22.00.

Clear rules

The Respect voor A-buurt clause was signed by the Antwerp Studentenoverleg (Student Committee), the city administration, the police, 16 cafes in the student quarter, all local institutions of higher education and Antwerp residents grouped in the Stadscampus and Stadswaag committees. The message of the new clause is clear: Students are welcome and deserve help to have a fun, hassle-free student experience, but they also have to respect residents and existing rules of conduct.

Now there can be no debate about what is and what isn’t allowed

- Education alderman Claude Marinower

This isn’t the first time the charter has been modified. Two years ago, it was broadened to encompass all student activities. “The rules now apply to all student events and parties, not just initiations,” Marinower explains. “Seventy-three student societies signed the agreement. If those all have four events a year, then there’s one in Antwerp every day, so to speak.”

Only the societies that have signed the charter are allowed to organise their initiations as well as their events in the public domain, he says, “provided they uphold the agreed-upon terms regarding location and time.”

GATE15, a city organisation that assists Antwerp students, has asked those clubs that haven’t signed the charter to do so if they want to continue to benefit from the organisation’s support. “When they don’t stick to their side of the agreement, they know that there will be sanctions such as the withdrawal of extra facilities or aid for the club,” Marinower explains. “It is important for the students as well because now there can be no debate about what is and what isn’t allowed.”

According to Lotte Vingerhoets of the PSW Antwerpen student club, students are also pleased with the charter. “Our club thinks it’s a very positive step,” she says. “We are allowed to organise our initiation event, and we get a lot of support from the city for it, such as requesting certain venues, for instance.”

The club’s initiation process is usually fairly intense, Vingerhoets explains, but they want it to remain fun for the students. “Now, with the charter, they know what they can expect, so things runs a lot more smoothly,” she says. “The only downside to the charter is that it takes a long time before you get permission, which can be quite stressful.”

Photo: Students at the 2015 StuDay, a one-day festival organised by GATE15
© Milan Swolfs / GATE15