Increased interest in student associations: ‘We don’t have room for everyone’

Students queueing up to sign up for student association Unitas. Photo: DUB

It's a nationwide phenomenon that has been going for a while already: student associations are getting more and more aspiring members knocking on their door. The National Chamber of Associations (LKvV in the Dutch acronym) has asked educational institutions and municipalities to help facilitate their growth.

Utrecht is no different: here, too, there are many students interested in joining associations – and we're not just referring to social associations, like USC or Unitas. Associations focused on sports and cultural activities have been observing a similar increase. To most association presidents, the explanation is simple: Covid. The same happened last year. “Students need to have fun and be in touch with people,” says MacLaine Pont, from student association ViaKunst.

Membership closed
Utrechts Studenten Corps (USC) has welcomed 250 new members. “We received so many membership applications this year, just like last year. In the end, we had to draw lots among the aspiring members, because we had reached our limit, so we closed membership. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for everyone,” explains Cas van Turnhout, a board member of the fraternity. “Judging by the number of applications, we’re definitely seeing a lot of interest in our association. As we also want to make sure our membership keeps a certain level of quality, we’re not sure whether we want to expand or not.”

Veritas (the largest association in Utrecht, with members of both sexes) limits the number of new members to 450 every annually. A rule that hasn’t changed this year, according to president Laura Baartmans. “We can’t house any more first-year students in our building.”

Unitas is another large, mixed student association. They, too, had to reject a lot of freshmen this year. The association has welcomed 360 new members and had to disappoint nearly 400 people. “Just like last year, we had to close our membership. We had never had to do that before,” says president Stephanie Bálint.

Despite reaching its membership limit, Unitas has still grown by a lot. “We’ve got a big building and lots of committees and groups, so we had some room to grow. Before Covid, we usually had around 200 new members, so we’ve been growing pretty hard lately.” However, the association has reached the absolute limit of people they can fit in their building, which is why they had to close the membership. In addition, explains Bálint, Unitas wanted to ensure that there wouldn't be a much larger group this year than in previous years.

Increased interest in smaller associations
Smaller associations have also seen a spike in membership applications. UMTC president David Spit says there was a long line at the door when they opened applications for prospective members. “We had a record number of applications, so we weren’t able to let everyone in for the introduction. We don’t draw lots. Here, we work on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. But things went really fast during the UIT week. In the end, we had to disappoint around sixty people, which is a shame.” UMTC capped its membership at 120 applications. “One of the most important aspects of our association is the fact that we’re small. Besides, our current building isn’t very big, so we can’t just accept an infinite amount of new members.”

At Biton, a social association "with no obligations", students have three opportunities to join each year: in August, October, and February. President Wendy Vreeken says that the association has gained 49 new members this past introduction week. That’s more than in previous years, when an average of around 20 new students joined in August. The association had to refuse some new members this time around, but offered an alternative: a place in the next two introduction periods. “I’m so happy we can offer this.”

Other associations also seeing increased interest
Aside from these social associations, there are also associations in Utrecht that revolve around a shared interest, such as sports or cultural activities. Utrecht-based sailing association Histos has to draw lots each year, as they always get more applications than they can accommodate. “But, this year, we had to disappoint more people than usual, around 280,” says Marike van der Post, secretary. The association welcomes an average of 120 new members each year, but the number of new members always varies according to the number of applications received. “We strive to keep to 500 members in total.”

Student association ViaKunst, focused on art, has around 120 members. They got 68 new members during the last UIT. "We also got 80 new members last year. We've grown so much", celebrates Jessica MacLaine, chair of ViaKunst's promotion committee. "But we didn't have to draw lots, everyone could join us."

Travel association Aegee is equally happy with how many new members they got. Like at ViaKunst, prospective members can sign up at any time. In addition, Aegee’s introduction period is scheduled a little later, which means the association is still expecting to get new members. “We’re not yet sure how many new members we’ll have, because students can also join the intro camp even if they’re not a member. We usually reach our peak during our camp,” explains president Natanja Sijnstra. Registrations for the intro camp have doubled this year.

ViaKunst and Aegee still have room to grow because they’re relatively small associations without a building of their own. Aegee called their camp location as soon as they realised the number of prospective members would be higher than expected. “We’re heading towards the maximum number of people we can accommodate in our intro camp, but there are still people enthusiastic about our association, so we’re also looking at ways to expand,” declares Sijnstra.