The critical café of New University Nijmegen

Yesterday, the New University Nijmegen started ‘Terecht!’ (‘rightly’, ‘justly’). A critical café located on Radboud University-campus. What is it all about? Tilburg University master student Zeger Polhuijs paid a visit to ‘Terecht!’.The Maagdenhuis students got evicted, but the story of the New University is not over yet. On Thursday, students of New University Nijmegen opened the ‘critical café Terecht’ in a vacant space in the university which used to house university restaurant ‘het Gerecht’. They created a cozy atmosphere with couches, chairs, carpets, books, board games, coffee and food, and started organizing lectures with professors about the identity and role of a university. The afternoon program included a ‘national assembly’ with students from New University groups throughout the country. I got on a train, curious and excited about this creative and critical intellectual/cultural project.

As I entered the hall which had been turned into the New University critical café, I greeted some students from Nijmegen whom I had met two weeks earlier in Amsterdam, and settled down on a couch enjoying some of the food that was available. That afternoon, New University students from various cities gathered to exchange updates about recent events. A guy from Utrecht, for example, shared about the academic shadow course (=extracurricular) they’re organizing on the governance of universities in the 20th and 21st centuries. Someone else told the story of the attempt to occupy a construction site on the campus of VU University to protest against the university’s real estate policy resulting in a reduction of laboratory spaces. I got the opportunity to share about the lecture and debate that New University Tilburg organized with Professor Eric van Damme. After the meeting, some of these students from other cities left, while more students from Nijmegen joined. People took some time to relax or chat with friends, while the group’s media team carried out several tasks which had been discussed and decided on during a meeting (their ‘general assembly’) earlier that day. Then the program resumed.

Staff from the social geography department spoke about the meaning and creation of critical spaces in the university, and about the level of inclusiveness in the university’s practice – especially in relation to multicultural domains of society and marginalized migrants. We enjoyed an excellent dinner (free of charge – donations encouraged) while listening to a folk band which gave a live performance. Afterwards we listened to a presentation about scientific research on the role of fear and overcoming fear in the organization of social movements and protest movements. The atmosphere was enjoyable, with people spread out through the café, sitting on couches, chairs, or on the carpets on the floor.

It is not yet clear how ‘critical café Terecht’ will develop during the next few days or weeks. One thing is certain: the process of academic protests by students and staff through creating open critical spaces, begun with the Bungehuis and Maagdenhuis occupations, is not over yet – and it has now clearly moved beyond Amsterdam.

This Sunday is going to be a really interesting day as well. The next major event in the ongoing story of the New University will then take place: the ‘festival of sciences’ in Felix Meritis in Amsterdam, which was supposed to be held two weeks ago but which had to be cancelled because of the Maagdenhuis eviction. Now, two weeks later, the president of UvA University has resigned, and a new open critical space has been created by New University Nijmegen. I am curious about the impact these events might have on the academic debates which will take place on Sunday.

Zeger Polhuijs


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