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Executive Board column: Annetje Ottow on the importance of student associations

Now the introduction weeks can go ahead as usual, the new students’ enthusiasm is overwhelming. It’s back to normal for the student associations too, having had a hard time of it during the pandemic.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What makes them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Annetje Ottow’s turn.

For me as a university administrator, student associations are an easy way to maintain contact with our students. During the lockdowns, we regularly had online meetings with the boards of the associations. This gave us a better idea of how the students were doing, now they had no choice but to stay at home. Together we made sure to keep in touch with the students and organised plenty of online activities.

Communities where you can feel at home

The associations are really important for social cohesion: they are communities where you can feel at home. As a new student in Leiden, you don’t want to spend your time sitting alone in your room. And you also gain life experience at the associations. It helps you find your way in life.

When I was a student I was a member of De Blauwe Schuit, the student sailing association. For me a large student association felt too overwhelming; I didn’t fancy that at all. A small association with sports activities suited me much better. Joining the sailing association was a fun way to get to spend time outdoors getting to know other students. We worked together in teams and I learned to think more about others. By doing activities together you gain experience in teambuilding. These are important social skills for your work later on. 


Student associations are a chance for a well-earned breather alongside your studies. As an administrator, I do worry about excessive alcohol and drug use among students. I regularly discuss this with students and the boards of the associations.

‘It is important that the boards are also aware of creating the right, inclusive and social culture’

Incidents such as last month at the A.S.C./A.V.S.V. student association in Amsterdam are unacceptable. How can university administrators have an effect on problematic behaviour within a group? In Leiden we have agreed with the associations that the boards will immediately inform us of any such incidents. We as a university will take appropriate disciplinary action. But for me, prevention is more important. We discuss this with one another, and it is important that the boards are also aware of creating the right, inclusive and social culture within their associations.

The boards of the student associations face a difficult task. As young board members, it’s almost a professional job that they have to do, one with social responsibility. That asks a lot of them and I have great respect for that. The lessons they learn doing their board work are lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They are being trained as the leaders of the future.

Does this strike a chord or would you like to share any insights or experiences relating to this column?  If so, send us an email at nieuws@leidenuniv.nl nieuws@leidenuniv.nl.

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