Get to meet the two student parties
Author: Daan Schrage, Ivo Knorr & Daniël Asselbergs
April 13, 2021
We interviewed representatives from both university-level student parties, SAM and Front, to ask about their values, their goals, and their plans for the future of Tilburg University. William Duke is representing SAM, and Lars van Loenen is representing Front.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about who you are?
William: My name is William Harris Duke, 22 years old. I'm a second year liberal arts student second and my major is humanities. Right now I'm an international officer at student party SAM. This means that my portfolio consists of wellbeing, sports, internationalisation and housing. Four very important topics. Next to that I am also responsible for some other small topics.
Lars: My name is Lars van Loenen. I'm 21 years old. I'm studying International Business Administration at TISEM. And currently, I'm the General Director of the student party Front. I have lived in Tilburg for almost four years now. I'm part of the student association T.S.C. St. Olof, and my fraternity is T.O.R.P.E.D.O. In my spare time I like to play football. My studies are also time consuming, but I hope to finish my bachelor at the end of this semester with my thesis.
Could you explain what councils are (who are most often part of it) and what the differences between the faculty and university councils are?
William: The university offers many options on how students can participate. Students can join sounding boards and education committees, here they fulfill an advisory and supervisory role in your education. They get to raise concerns and accept and advise on curriculum changes. Secondly you have the students council, faculty being a decentralized council and the university council a centralized body. The faculty council only focuses on faculty specific problems, while the university council aims to improve the student experience for all 19.000 students. The faculty and university councils are also able to create initiatives, the sounding board and education committees aren’t able to do this. Student parties, which are part of the 2 overarching councils, have to be elected. All students are able to vote for their respective faculty elections but also for the university election. This year the elections will be held on the 28th, 29th and 30th of April. All councils consist of students and staff.
Why do you think that it is important for students to participate in a council?
William: That's a very good question. I'll start by saying that all councils are useful for improving the university. The sounding board for first years provides the university staff with problems most new students might encounter. Some of these problems are passed on to the faculty council or university council if those problems are common for all students. Getting information from students is generally very useful for improving the quality of education.
Lars: I think that it's a great way to further develop yourself in a professional way. You get an insight into how a large corporation, like a university, is run. There is also the opportunity to debate with staff from whom you could learn a lot. Interacting with these people is something that not many students are able to do. Because you've influenced some of the decision making of the university, you can really achieve something, workout ideas, write initiatives, and change the university for the better for the future generations to come. And it's also a great way to get connections with like minded students from all walks of life.
Why are you interested in shaping a better future for TIlburg University?
William: The keyword for me is well-being, I wanted to create a better and safer community at Tilburg University. Shaping the social, mental and physical well-being for the future of our university has been my main interest. During the pandemic student well-being has been all the more important to our party and I hope with my input the university will keep heading in the right direction.
Lars: The pandemic has put a lot of extra pressure on our students, this has to be monitored. It is also very important for students to get the most out of their short time spent at university. Students no longer take 8 years to finish their studies. Students also need to be sufficiently prepared for their career. So I would like to help current and future students by making sure that they have a good balance between professional development and personal development during their studies.
Why did you choose to join your SAM over Front or the other way around?
William: I noticed that the university was lacking when it came to their wellbeing policies. I was of the opinion that things needed to be changed. And I wanted to find a party that felt the same way. Both parties find student wellbeing very important. But I was of the opinion that student party SAM had a more straightforward approach. Next to that I also found that quality of education was very important. Active student life is very important, we should all do that. But I thought that this aspect of student life is already pretty well organized. I think quality of education could always be better, and wellbeing could always be better. So that was my main reason for choosing Student Party SAM. Plus, as an international I found out that wellbeing and internationalization are a bit similar in some ways. It was thus quite logical for me to focus on this too.
Lars: I wanted to do something in the upcoming year, because I knew that I only needed to complete a few courses. So I decided to look for several interesting options. “Why is Front not an option for me?” popped into my head as lots of fellow active students that I know have been part of Front as well. Consequently, I contacted them. The entire opportunity seemed really interesting to me from the beginning. I also think that Front suits my personality since Front actively ensures the interests of active students, and I am also a very active student myself. It speaks for itself that when you are part of the University Council you focus on the quality of education. But with Front we also want to look beyond that and ensure that students can develop to their maximum potential both inside and outside their studies. Many students learn the necessary soft skills within extra curricular activities, which is why this should be facilitated as much as possible by the University. There was also an added bonus to Front, as my favorite color was green when I was young, this coincides with the color of Front. ;)
Can you tell the readers a bit more about the pillars and the values of your party?
William: Our main pillar is quality of education, the other three are quite important to our party too, but SAM's crucial focus is on safeguarding your education. Be it the quality of your teachers, exams, lectures, tutorials or assignments we aim to improve it all. The other three are student facilities, which focuses on better facilities for students regarding health etc. We have personal development which we think is very important too, we want the students to do other things outside of their courses. We also have access to the labor market as our final pillar, we think that internships and job skills are quite lacking, we definitely want to focus more on that.
Lars: We have a main vision that is “The active student”. It’s a really broad term. It’s not only about student associations but also about study associations, sport associations , basically anything outside of the study. We really want to focus on people who want to do something extra instead of just doing their study. Then we have 3 pillars to support this vision. That is internationalization, the university is focusing more on the international relationships, this also regards exchanges. The next pillar is the living campus. The Tilburg University campus is a large campus where most activities happen for students, even during covid we think it’s a really important meeting place. Lastly we have digitalization, of course at the moment it is 100% implemented. Since digitalization is the future of a lot of people, once the pandemic is over, we hope that digitalization will still be a part of the university in a hybrid way.
What does the collaboration between SAM and Front look like?
William: While there is definitely a rivalry between the two parties, we also agree on a lot of things. For example last year with Corona, there was a lot more pressure on students and problems came with that, for example with the BSA. So we had to work together and write a letter and say: this is a problem, fix it.
Lars: The thing is, you want to show yourself as somebody with your own ideas and want to not do everything together because you have to differentiate from the others. It’s good to have different ideas. But we do work together on really important matters that impact all students, we as student representatives need to let our voices be heard.
What does a typical week look like for you?
William: Since I’m a full timer, I don’t study as much. On monday we always have a standard meeting with the whole party on what we are going to do in the week. Then you have standard meetings with committees of the university. And then you also work on memos and documents that you need to work on for the university council to give advice on. And then I work on housing policies, and certain upcoming events. So you have the formal aspect and the social aspect, sometimes you have an online gathering with a different party or association, that’s basically the social aspect of it. Of course in a normal year we would do more physical gatherings.
Lars: The thing is, every week is different. There is no clear schedule. Some days you have three meetings, but that’s a lot different every week. Mostly what I’m doing is having meetings with staff, students, with the rest of the student party to talk about our ideas. I also search a lot of information online and in literature about new initiatives. We also have committees, my acquisition committee has a meeting once a week. Sometimes we need to read the pieces we get from the University Council. Sometimes, like now during the elections, we have some extra things to do. So yeah, it’s really different every week but that’s one of the things I like most about my board year at the moment.
What does the preparation for such a meeting look like?
William: You have policies and plans that you need to discuss with your colleagues beforehand. Prepare some questions about them etc. Sometimes, if you want to have changes made, you have to defend your own policies. You first discuss them in your own committees, prepare a defense on why this is important, and make sure you prepare responses for potential questions.
Lars: There are several preliminary meetings where the several pieces of the University Council will be discussed. The staff of the university is also there to discuss these topics. In these preliminary meetings we really go in depth on the topic. You of course also have to prepare initiatives if you have them. Make sure that the information is correct, make it perfect to send out to the University Council. We also prepare questions and decide who says what.
Are you able to give an example of an initiative that your party is working on/put forward in the past year?
William: Well, I think I could give you an extensive review of what initiatives SAM has started. For time’s sake I will hone in on one. In the first University Council I had an initiative for a general practitioner. I knew that well-being policies were missing. Something had to be done. I think you should always have a personal aspect when writing an initiative, because otherwise you don’t fully believe in it. So then I did research, I contacted different universities that had a student GP, I looked at statistics. And then after that we had a format for the initiative. I also contacted student development, because I really do believe you need to contact the University, to really get your message across. Also asking questions like “Is it feasible?” is very useful.
Lars: One of the things that we initiated this academic year, was a sustainability fund for associations. Front thinks that sustainability is an important topic at the university for the future.. They want to improve on this matter as much as possible themselves, and we also think that associations want to improve as well. But sometimes the implementation of those ideas in an association can cost quite some money. Therefore, we created an initiative, together with the Sustainability Factory, with a checklist of what a sustainable association should look like. We introduced the initiative in October, and last week, we finally got a response that we'll be able to divide 10,000 euros per year for the upcoming years, to the associations who are validated to be a sustainable association. So that's really a good achievement, I think.
Do you and your fellow board members think that continuity within the student party is important, and why?
William: We find it very important. We have a supervisory board that consists of old board members, and we also have an advisory board. This can be viewed as an objective external part of the organisation. We always ask our old council members for advice. So continuity is very important, because if we don't follow our four pillars anymore, then we're not believable. So our four pillars are basically our Bible. And we always come back to them, we always use them in our arguments. We always look at our predecessors, what they've done and try to build on that.
Lars: Of course, the future of Front is important. A student party should not remain idle, but keep improving. The pillars have been the same for several years now. However a few years ago the active student became our vision instead of just a pillar. We talk about that in collaboration with the old board members, because we have good contact with them. And it's good that we know that they have our back. If we get into trouble or we're not sure about certain things, then we can always ask them. Of course, we are wary of doing something that is in their eyes not part of the vision of Front. We often have talks with old board members via our old members association called “FRAF”.
If a student is very enthusiastic about your student party after reading this interview, how would they be able to contribute to the fraction?
William: The smallest thing you can do is vote for us during the elections if you agree with SAM’s values. If you want to do more you could join a committee, they are an integral part of our student party. There are committees that are a bit more informal than others, so whatever suits you best. And if you really want to go the full mile, you could apply for a board position. You could also visit our site at https://fractiesam.nl/
Lars: We are open to new members all the time. So it's always open for people to come and join our organization. Everyone is also able to apply for a board year. Furthermore, we also have a student participation association, and that is now in its fifth year. It consists of several committees, where we get some of our feedback from. There is also room for brainstorming about ways we could improve our university. This association also organizes various events for its members. Students who would like to participate could always contact me. You could also visit our site at https://fractiefront.nl/
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