Student charity week to end as board struggles to find successors
“Such a shame,” laments Roos Nolten, the event's secretary, about the decision to call it quits. She looks back on the past year with mixed feelings, as the last edition of the charity week raised over almost 11.000 euros for two organisations: the Sexual Assault Centre and Friends of the Earth Netherlands.
“We raised a considerable amount of money and student associations were enthusiastic about the event, which makes it all the more painful to be forced to call the Chamber of Commerce and cancel our registration,” Nolten sighs.
The RAG week existed for fourteen years. Alongside study associations, student associations and student sports clubs in Utrecht, the board organised a myriad of activities, from cooking classes to football matches, from lectures to parties. The money raised was donated to charitable organisations — every edition was dedicated to a different cause. The name of the event comes the term "ragging", which originated in the UK in the 1990s, when students raised funds for the less fortunate and wrote poems on rags. Today, the term "RAG" is often assumed to mean "raise and give".
The duck race organised in 2019. Photo: DUB
Some of the activities organised by the RAG week became phenomena in their own right, such as the "duck race", turned out to be a legendary part of the charity week. Every year, hundreds of yellow rubber duckies would float in the Singel canal to compete against each other in a "race". Participants could buy a duck and participate in the competition for a small fee.
But that is not the only activity that became a staple in the week's programme. Study associations introduced the Sexy Board Calendar (in Dutch, Sexy Bestuurskalender), in which board members of twelve student associations were photographed buck naked, under the motto "sexy with a playful touch". Many editions of the calendar followed in the years thereafter and it was so popular that its photos hang on the walls of many student associations. In 2016, Hanne Oberman, Vice-President of study association Atlast, told DUB that this is a tradition she hoped was here to stay.
Veterinary Medicine students take their shirts off for a good cause
However, the tradition is coming to an end now. RAG's current board looked for successors, but they couldn't even find half of the six necessary members. “We even tried to come up with alternative board structures,” Nolten explains. One of the things they considered is collaborating with other student cities that organise RAG weeks too.
“We're seeing whether the RAG board in Nijmegen can take on some of the tasks from Utrecht, so at least the RAG week committees within student associations can keep going. The RAG week in Nijmegen has just installed its new board, so it will take a while before we can have a definitive answer to this question.”
Fewer and fewer candidates
The struggle to find board members is not a recent issue. RAG boards have been having a hard time finding successors for years. They are not the only ones, though: this year, two parties representing students in the University Council had to drop out of the elections due to a lack of candidates. Students' lack of interest in university councils is a nationwide trend in the Netherlands.
Vidius, the organisation representing the interests of university students in Utrecht, has noticed that many student associations are struggling to find people interested in joining their boards. “This is an issue in practically all kinds of associations, except the really big ones,” explains Vidius President Yason Sinout. “Many boards are incomplete this year. They are starting the academic year with one less person on the board, hoping that someone might care to join them later on. Sometimes, former board members are also asked to take up positions."
Het RAG-bestuur van vorig jaar (2021-2022) doneert geld aan Stichting Jarige Job
Pandemic was a hard blow
The Covid-19 pandemic is suspected to be one of the factors explaining why students seem less interested in participating in boards and committees. “Current students are not as familiarised with the associations and perhaps they feel less involved as a result,” suggests Sinout, who also suspects that the student loan system, in force since 2015, has been affecting students’ willingness to join boards. After all, spending a year working for a board often costs money. “Students with little money and lots of debt are less likely to sign up.”
Nolten, too, reckons that the situation is a consequence of the pandemic. “Usually, students choose to serve on a board in the second or third year of their studies. I just get tired of all the partying after a while, so I decided to do something useful,” she says. “I can imagine that students in their senior year don’t feel that way right now. After all, they missed out on a lot of things because of Covid. I guess they just want to be free, enjoy life, not take on any additional responsibilities.”
Although the RAG week is not going to come back in its original form, Nolten hopes that student associations and clubs will keep raising money for charitable associations anyway. “Even if we don't have an entire week dedicated to this, involving thirty associations, this type of initiative is beneficial to all good causes.”