DOPE: Large, Pragmatic and Dutch
Maastricht's biggest student party demands the best possible education, even in Covid times.
When Rozemarijn Kahle (second year student at University College Maastricht) settled in Maastricht, she was persuaded to join DOPE by friends who had been part of the party. "I had some spare time and they were really positive about it. That’s why I thought: well, let’s do it!’’ As student representative for the FSE, Roos attends monthly meetings in which she discusses important faculty related topics, "nowadays often COVID related.’’ As board member of DOPE, she is mainly occupied with posts on Instagram and events on Facebook. More generally, she makes sure that the external communication ‘’goes smoothly’’. Luckily enough, Rozemarijn could make some time to discuss her party.
For our series on student politics, DOPE couldn’t be left out. Maastricht’s largest student representation faction has been around for more than 20 years – making it one of the most experienced advocates for students’ interests in town. While the party started out as an independent association, DOPE is nowadays affiliated with the Dutch National Student Associations (an intercity student consultation). According to Roos, this only has advantages. "We are directly informed about what happens on the highest level of decision-making and we indirectly have a say in national politics.’’ At Maastricht University, the party is represented in all faculty councils. This high number of seats is the result of DOPE’s effective mouth-to-mouth promotion, Roos argues. Due to the pandemic, the party has been limited in its activities. Nonetheless, Roos says, DOPE has made some valuable contributions to University life and has a clear vision of where UM should go.
A practical approach
As stated on their website, the party wants the best possible education, adequate facilities, the latest technological support systems and better integration of international students. Of these four pillars, Roos considers education to be the most important for DOPE. "There are a lot of challenges facing university life, but the most important part of university is education. The quality has to be optimal. As long as that’s perfect, DOPE is satisfied.’’ In the various faculty councils, DOPE championed the recording of lectures as a way to optimize online teaching, but only after the outbreak of Covid, UM was willing to cooperate. "Staff members were forced to adapt and they now see the advantages,’’ Roos clarifies.
While being ambitious in some respects, the party is above all pragmatic: ‘’We do not only focus on what we want, but also on what is possible.’’ With respect to the available learning spaces, for example, the FSE representative is realistic. "The University is just too big for the city,’’ she laughs. "Every year, new students are accepted and every year the city seems to become smaller.’’ A constructive attitude is necessary in the various councils to tackle such problems: "The parties are different, but we are all students. The staff members assume you lack insights and knowledge. We have to prove that we can actually make a contribution.’’ The cooperative nature of party relations was exemplified by the realisation of the Tapijn learning spaces, for which DOPE fought – together with other parties.
Advocates of integration
Besides the drive to improve teaching at UM, DOPE desires greater integration between Dutch and international students. "At UCM it’s an organic process,’’ Roos says. "That’s what it’s known for. People are very inclusive. Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter where you come from.’’ She sees that this is not always the case at other faculties: "Especially at faculties that are primarily Dutch, like SBE and FHML. We believe that it’s beneficial for all if students with different nationalities merge and socialise.’’
While DOPE preaches diversity, it’s board and councils representatives are predominantly Dutch. "We strive for a diverse list of candidates, but that is kinda hard. The student representation parties are not very well-known, so we mainly use our own social network to find new candidates.’’ Roos hopes that DOPE can break this vicious circle. "We have become more active on social media, also on various Facebook groups, in order to reach as many international students as possible.’’ In spite of being mostly Dutch, Rozemarijn feels that the party can adequately represent the interests of all students: "We are aware of the problems international students face. Via tutorial groups we connect with each other. We actively ask what we can do to help.’’
Affected by Covid-19
After the outbreak of the pandemic, many of these problems concerned mental health. DOPE had "big plans’’ for the University, but due to Covid the party decided to focus on student well-being instead. "At UCM, you notice that the community is very important. A common room – where students can socialise – is being missed.’’ Furthermore, Roos is not satisfied with UM’s attitude in tackling the problems related to mental health. "We believe that the University should do more,’’ she argues. "But the University sees that differently. They believe to be only partly responsible for student well-being.’’ Together with KAN and NovUM, DOPE aims to change this attitude. "We are working on a survey which seeks to show the mental problems students face. We will show the results to the Faculty Council, since staff members at FSE tend to downplay the problems.’’
The upcoming elections
Overall, Roos is satisfied with the role of students in the University’s decision-making process. "I feel that our opinion is really appreciated. If we have something to say, the staff is all ears. They do not immediately embrace it, but they do listen.’’ Nevertheless, she still sees room for improvement. "UM should do more to create awareness around the elections and the Council system in general. When I ran elections, 70% of the students I approached were unaware of its existence. As DOPE we are limited, but the University could – in potential – reach more students.’’
For the forthcoming elections, DOPE already set out its main ambitions. "As usual, we plea for good education,’’ Roos says. This time, however, the party also set out a new objective:
"Diversity! We have little international students in our Council and we want to change that.’’