Students spray-paint 10,000 red squares on Utrecht streets to support teachers

The red square is the symbol of WOinAction. It will be spray-painted on the streets of Utrecht on Monday. Photo: WOinAction.

On Monday, the students will spray a red square every 1.5 metres on the 5 kilometres between the Dom square and the Utrecht Science Park. The square is the symbol of protest group WOinAction, which fights for improved financing of higher education.

The ten thousand squares that will appear on the Utrecht roads that day will form a criticism in chalk (‘verwijt in krijt’). They symbolise the number of hours that UU teachers work in unpaid overtime every day. A quick calculation of those hours can be found on the website of the student group. It’s based on the number of hours Dutch teachers say they work overtime (around 13 to 15 every week) and the number of teachers employed by the UU.

Collective interest
The action was organised at break-neck speed. Direct cause was an interview (in Dutch, ed.) with Leiden professor Remco Breuker in De Volkskrant newspaper this weekend. In the interview, the bigwig of the WOinAction movement voiced his disappointment about the lack of support and involvement of students in the protests against high workloads amongst teachers.

After that, the idea was born in an app group of (former) UU co-determination members to show their support for teachers during the start of the academic year. “It’s true that students aren’t aware enough what the reason is that exams often aren’t graded in time, or why they get so little feedback sometimes,” says Ingrid Weerts, one of the people behind the initiative. “Getting more money for higher education is truly a collective interest of students and teachers alike.”

All students
According to Ingrid, who’s graduated from a Bachelor’s in Artificial Intelligence at the UU and is now taking numerous UU courses for her Leiden Master’s, there are now around twenty students involved in the action. She’s hoping that on Monday, more students show up at their stand in the Wilhelmina park. “We’re also trying to get in touch with study associations. This should be an action by all Utrecht students.”

The crowdfunding set up to pay for the chalk has been going well, she says. Ingrid also reassures those who fear they may be doing something illegal. Two years ago, several students were fined for spraying chalk texts on the Drift street, but after a debate in the municipal council, it’s become clear that using chalk spray is allowed in demonstrations. “We’ve also announced it to the municipality, so they’re aware of it.”