Stories from the Maagdenhuis

Zeger Polhuijs, student Christianity & Society at Tilburg University, blogs from the occupied Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam. In this series he will give us an inside look in the goings on at the centre of the student protests in The Netherlands.

Recently I have been travelling back and forth between Amsterdam (where I studied Cultural Anthropology for five years at VU university) and Tilburg (where I now live and where I am enrolled in the master ‘Christianity & Society’). I’m not an UvA-student myself and in that sense I am not one of the occupiers of the Maagdenhuis, even though I can be found there frequently because of my involvement in ‘de nieuwe universiteit VU’ and ‘de nieuwe universiteit Tilburg’.

Last Saturday I was cleaning the floors on the first floor of the Maagdenhuis. From the balcony I looked down on the large atrium on the ground floor, where UvA-students and a few sympathizers were busy with a big spring cleaning while easygoing jazzmelodies were playing in the background, as they had also done on Saturday the week before.

The Maagdenhuis occupation is in its fifth week now, and much has already been accomplished. At the same time, the activist students of ‘de nieuwe universiteit’ are aware that they have to carry on until the (according to them) vague and general pledges of the executive board of UvA university are turned into concrete changes. In the meantime, a fast and decisive action (forcing their way into the Maagdenhuis followed by an intense debate with the executive board later that evening) has been transformed into a long-term occupation, including lectures, a media team, and a canteen running on donations in which free coffee and breakfast/lunch/dinner can be found. On the one hand, the movement has staged fiery demonstrations – literally, because following an established tradition of protest in Amsterdam, something was set on fire again at the statue of ‘het lieverdje’. On the other hand, demonstrations using playful humor have been staged, such as an ironic action with birthday hats and party horns in which Louise Gunning was declared ‘director of the year’ of ‘the old university’.

But in this series of blogs I don’t want to discuss participation in decision-making, efficiency thinking or financial allocation models, but to share stories from the Maagdenhuis and anecdotes of the initiatives of students, teachers and researchers who are engaged in the movements of protest and reform which have sprang up in the wake of ‘de nieuwe universiteit’. Almost a kind of action-anthropological fieldwork. ‘Tales from the field: the Maagdenhuis’. Stay tuned!

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