If you’re Dutch you probably already know this, but if you’re in the Netherlands as a foreign student it might be surprising to discover how central studentenverenigingen are to Dutch university life. Joining a student association can be a convenient way to get to know people, socialise with folks outside class and have fun with your fellow students… but how to choose the best one?
Here at Leiden Pride we often receive questions about Leiden’s student associations: which ones are more accepting of queer people? Should one be concerned about other members’ reaction if they’re open about their sexuality? Will they be pushed to engage in heteronormative traditions? Are trans identities acknowledged and respected?
In the past we’ve been unable to give accurate answers on the topic, but it’s high time to try and find out what the situation is actually like.
To do that, we sent a questionnaire to the main five gezelligheidsverenigingen (associations centred around “hanging out”, socialising, having drinks and partaking in fun activities, as opposed to the associations focused on specific sports, hobbies or cultural pursuits) to get an idea of their attitudes towards LGBTQI+ issues.
There is good news.
Let’s cut to the chase: all of the three associations who answered the questionnaire (Augustinus, SSR and Catena) have clearly said in their responses that they welcome queer members and that they believe that creating safe spaces for everyone to be themselves is a priority.
If you’re curious, you can read (a slightly editorialised version of) our questions and their answers down below.
Do you have any doubts we didn’t address? Any concerns we overlooked? Let us know!
Are there any queer members in your organisation? Do they make up a substantial subset of your membership, or are they very few? And what about the board?
CATENA: Yes, there are many people here who are openly queer. Catena strives to be the most inclusive of the student associations in Leiden and in my opinion we succeeded! Everyone is welcome and should feel welcome inside the walls of Catena. As for the board, I’m not sure if it would be my place to tell others about this – but we do strive to be open and inclusive.
SSR: Yes, SSR has a lot of members that are part of the queer community! They make up a really substantial subset of our members. Our board contains eight people, of which twoidentify as gay and three as bisexual.
AUGUSTINUS: I wouldn’t say they make up a substantial amount of our members, but I think the amount of our LGBTQ members is proportional with that of Leiden University and society as a whole. Our board is as diverse as the association.
Are the activities of the association open to all genders, or are there gender-segregated groups? What about housing?
CATENA: Gender simply does not play a role in any of our activities, roles or any other imaginable thing.
SSR: SSR has 20 disputen (subgroups), sixteen of which have mixed genders, three only have female members and three only male members. We now have ladies’ and gentlemen’s toilets, but we are planning a rebuilding, after which we will have gender neutral bathrooms. The only “gendered” activity I can think of is that, during the kennismakingstijd (introduction period for first-year members) members sing our traditional song. One line is sung on a different pitch by men and women.
AUGUSTINUS: Our subgroups (cordialen) are made up of 12 to 18 members, either male or female. Although it is possible to form such a group with members of both sexes, this hasn’t happened in the last twenty or so years. Houses are mostly mixed and all of our activities are accessible for all members, regardless of gender.
Would a trans student be encouraged to join the activities of the association as their true self? Would a pre- or non-op trans member be discriminated against? And non-binary students?
CATENA: Yes, our trans members can be themselves at Catena.
SSR: A trans student would be very welcome to join, no matter whether they have or have not changed their documents or had medical treatment. Non-binary people are also welcome. When a new member wants to register, they can also choose ‘other’ when they are asked for their gender.
AUGUSTINUS: Just like all other students, trans students are welcome to join our association. When signing up for our association we ask for the gender someone identifies with most. Non-binary people are welcome as well, but since most new members form groups of either male or female students, they would have to choose what kind of group they want to join.
Board response to homophobia
How would you [as board member] react if a member of the association said they faced homophobia/transphobia? And if one of your members expressed homophobic/transphobic views, say, on their social media, how would the association react to that?
CATENA: If someone said or posted something homophobic/trasphobic I would be disappointed and point towards our code of conduct. However, what happens on each member’s social media pages is something we cannot really control as an association – it is not part of our activities/platforms/walls. Everything that does happen within said categories is something we can control to a certain extent, and we actively try to make sure that everyone feels safe and inclusive.
SSR: I haven’t experienced any of these scenarios yet, but we would take those complaints very seriously. We really value a safe environment for all of our members, so we would do the things that are necessary to improve this.
AUGUSTINUS: It’s hard to give a clear answer to this question without having more information about each scenario. However, I can say that we always try our best to ensure that every single one of our members feels welcome, and we speak out against any form of hatred or discrimination within our association. If members experience any discrimination and they want to discuss it discreetly, we have counselors available within our association.
Welcoming LGBTQI+ students
Have any changes been made in the last few years to make the associations more welcoming to LGBTQI+ students?
CATENA: Not that I am aware of for now.
SSR: SSR-Leiden is a very open and diverse association. This is fundamental for SSR and I think that this attracts a lot of LGBTQ+ members. I don’t know whether any conscious changes have been made in the past.
AUGUSTINUS: Some very subtle changes have been made. During our kennismakingstijd we tried to make the explanation of certain traditions more inclusive: when telling them about our yearly “Gala”, for example, we it made clear that it is totally accepted to have same-gender dates.
NB: Minerva and Quintus haven’t sent in a reply, so we are unable to say where they stand on the topic. We’d be happy to edit this post and include their answers, should they provide them in the future.