Students are not second-class citizens
Yet, for Janna and Geke, in three years you can expect to integrate; “I think there is a lot of choice actually. But we have to work a lot on letting the students know about what they can do”. This can be as diverse as establishing a good relationship with our neighbors or participating to clubs, events, and demonstrations where locals and foreign students come together; “at GroenLinks we very much encourage student’s involvement and grass-roots initiatives”.
For Geke –whose rowing student association (Saurus) just decided upon a minimum 35% international member quota to help international students learn Dutch and to change the image of this local’s institution –it is up to the student to set up initiatives to render Maastricht more socially cohesive. For the rest, when students will become more active as they begin to be aware that their say on the municipality council decides upon poverty care, the cinema, whether or not trucks may pass through their street, what happens to the clubs like the Complex, sports facilities, student squats or cultural spaces. Janna explains: “By being a student here, whether it is for three, four or five years, you are part of a transient people that is constitutive of Maastricht’s identity and economy. The municipality is elected for four years. You have to vote for the person coming after you. It is actually even beneficial for the locals that the council is a democratic representation of the city.” Concerning the Landhuis food bank, the Muziekgieterij and other squats, center-right parties in the council will tend to favor selling these buildings that have gained remarkable value since they were abandoned. GroenLinks’ position is to ensure that these cultural scenes are not neglected because of profit-oriented reasons; GL stands for the unconditional protection of both alternative and mainstream cultural facilities: “We need to establish a culture where this is taken into account.” Many other student-related issues are on the table. A pressing one is, obviously, student accommodation, which is drastically lacking. Although the University attendance has grown faster than expected by the accommodation construction plan, proposals have been made to implement rules on the number of student housing certain streets may host at the most. Besides GL’s struggle to make new student accommodation affordable (at least less than a hotel…), the two girls note that there is an important division or resentment, if not hate, fuelling a generational clash between the students and the locals.
“We are not all here making inter-generational friends, but still”
“I am optimistic” gasps Geke: she believes it is possible to stand by students’ interests without deepening the generational clash. “We should not forget that the University is so young (42); now is the normal time for antagonism to show up. It will go with time.” If the connection is so hard to make with the locals, it is certainly due to Limburg-chauvinism. The Limburgish pride is one of distinction with the rest of the country. The us-against-them feeling is thus exacerbated. Plus, Maastricht University is not on a campus but in town, for the better and for the worst. However related this may be, the PVV (Geert Wilders’ far-right populist Party for Freedom) has, this year for the first time managed to present a list for the municipals. The PVV appeals to the feeling of alienation of the locals and will rally an audience that used not to vote. All the students’ vote and enthusiasm will be required to face this new burst of animosity. Fortunately, political manifestations and social initiatives such as those organized to the benefit of the refugees quite successfully bind students and elderly locals together. “People have great ideas and adopt the good behaviours in Maastricht; perhaps all we need is to stimulate these for them to show up and take action?” The campaign is now open.