What's student life like after corona?

(08-04-2020) The corona crisis puts Ghent's vibrant student life to the test. Will the student life still get going and will it blossom again?

"Commilitones, welcome to the 26th Massacantus! So many ribbons, so many flags. I can't help but notice that student life in Ghent is flourishing." With these words rector Rik Van de Walle opened the 26th Massacantus in the Flanders Expo. A highlight of the student year for many students. Approximately 2,400 students together in one large hall, a stark contrast to the measures that today's student life suffers from today.

The vibrant student life as we know it has come to a complete standstill. Will the student life still get going and will it blossom again? We ask Nicolas Vander Eecken, Master in Business Engineering - Data Analytics and the last two years Ghent University Department of Student Activities (DSA) coordinator.

Is the Therminal, the heart of club life at Ghent University, really empty now?

Nicolas Vander Eecken: Within the DSA and with the Konvents, we quickly decided to provide clarity to the student association and to the students.

On March 11th we decided to suspend all activities until April 4th with almost immediate effect. The activities that did take place were not approved by the Konvents and the DSA.

On Sunday 29th March, we decided to extend our measures until 4th of July. In essence, this means that the DSA and Ghent University will no longer offer facilities for organizing activities. This includes reservations of rooms or material, funds or insurance.

Studenthouse The Therminal therefore remains closed until 4 July. The rules on social distance, which are in force today, were impossible for us to apply in the Therminal.

Block@ will therefore not continue either. At the moment we are thinking of creating some kind of ‘virtual Therminal’. Or perhaps offer the students a number of applications and tips in which 'virtual collective studying' is somewhat possible. Our students like to study in a group for a reason. They find a remedy against the many social media temptations that keep them from studying. They find social control, connectedness and shared suffering. The 'social distance'-measures don't take away those needs, but they do take away our possibilities to meet them.

Blok@therminalWhat does a day in the life of the DSA-coordinator look like today, in times of corona?

Nicolas Vander Eecken: The tasks of the DSA-coördinator normally follow the waves of the academic year. With busy moments and sometimes very busy moments, for example during the threshing period. Normally, my days consist of a very varied set of responsibilities. For example, the DSA-coordinator forms a line of communication with the city council, the Ghent University administration, the Konvents and the students associations themselves. The coordinator also runs the DSA and is responsible for running the Therminal.

Today, of course, all this is much less. The waves of the academic year have levelled out a bit more. Where I had to do damage control in the past few weeks, my days now mainly consist of working, meeting and studying online. At the moment, for example, I'm doing the calculations for the student associations regarding the cancellation costs they now bear for all activities that will no longer take place, or as I call it: "Mapping out the economic damage of the measures taken".

I think that, like everyone else, my days have become a bit monotonous. And frankly, I sometimes have a hard time with that. Every day I try to take a short walk outside to counteract the feeling of being locked up.

What are you missing most at the moment?

Nicolas Vander Eecken: I really just miss the social contact, the Therminal where otherwise there are always people. Just the student life. The possibility to go to an activity every night. A very simple answer, huh?

The traditional classes have been cancelled for the rest of the academic year. Is the student life still going on?

Nicolas Vander Eecken: I think so, but I am a little scared.  We are still recovering this year, there are about 30% less enrolments and active members across all our student associations. Now I’m hoping that this line will not continue, although that can be difficult in these circumstances.

The student life is still alive, but it is not easy. That's why I try to encourage the associations as much as possible to be creative and provide digital alternatives for their operation and for the members.

For example, the best initiatives I saw were the servers on minecraft, online ‘cantussen’ and Habbo. Students made several cafes at the Overpoort using Habbo. That way they could still stay in touch and have a beer together.

Do you have a message for your fellow students?

Nicolas Vander Eecken: To all those who think the world is decaying, remember: "Chaos is a ladder" - Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. But use your wits.


Galabal Home KonventHow do the members of the Home Konvent stay in touch with each other? We ask praeses Roselien Van Gucht.

Roselien Van Gucht: The members of the Home Konvent (HK) meet each other online in the different rooms of Sunniedays.nl, where we also organized our HK Galabal a while back. The communal rooms of various homes have been recreated there, as have many cafes from the Overpoort and even the rooms of some of our members. We communicate with each other through the website itself or through discord-conversations.

In the meantime, I myself participated in a cantus of Filologica via StarLeaf. It was chaotic at first, but once we found a system, it was really cool. We are thinking about organizing a cantus with the HK. Furthermore, the HK organized a live session origami by our own cantor Thibaut on Instagram last week and Aunt Kaat's crazy Kahoot quiz was also a great success. Our PR managers try to fill the weeks of our members by publishing a week overview every Sunday with fun ideas in our Facebook group and come up with challenges. The 'sports' of the homes keep their members healthy by, among other things, organizing a long distance cup where members have to show via an app how much they run during a certain week.

What are you missing most at the moment?

Roselien Van Gucht: I really miss our weekly bar nights, talking together and having fun. It feels like a big part of my life is just gone now. During this period where social contact is mainly virtual, I realize all the more how much all the residents of the homes mean to me. It's quiet in the corridors of Home Bertha, in the garden, and I don't have any galas, parties or bars anymore to look forward to and motivate me during the study periods.

However, I still feel very connected to the HK thanks to our many conversations on online platforms, virtual smiles and cuddles in chats and the online events we organize. It is now that the strength of the Home Konvent, my sweetest Konvent, is apparent.

It will not be easy to reach everyone regarding the upcoming elections. I do worry about that because we want to reach all residents to the same extent as in previous years in order to make the elections as fair as possible. The physical distance now, however, does bring practical problems in that respect. Fortunately, we can talk about it with the seniors and there are online solutions. I've also been offered the help of the Housing Department to distribute information about information moments and the elections via e-mail. We can certainly use that help.