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Tubantia Article: ‘Dutch only’ in student houses? Fuss about choosing roommates on the University of Twente campus

By 13 March 2021March 15th, 2021News

The topic of co-optation is currently a big topic at the university. After discussions in the university council, the local newspaper Tubantia has picked up the topic and written a story about the different perspectives. Maarten Bonnema from the faction 2020/21 was interviewed to share his thoughts and represent UReka.

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Here you can find the link to the story written by Tubantia:



Since the article is published in the local Dutch newspaper it is written in Dutch, but below you can find a complete translation.

‘Dutch only’ in student houses? Fuss about choosing roommates on the University of Twente campus

Video: Enschede – A discussion has arisen at the University of Twente (UT) about the right of students to choose their own roommates on campus. The Executive Board wants to get rid of the current system, because it can lead to exclusion and discrimination. But many students value that so-called co-optation right.

The possible abolition of the right of co-option, as the system is officially known, is a sensitive issue at UT. This is evident from the fact that the idea arose in student circles to demonstrate against its abolition. A protest has not yet been organized, but that does not mean that peace has returned.

Quickly a new plan
The executive board  initiated a discussion. The board does not want to abolish the co-optation right, but it does want to adjust it. According to the board, the university council asked to come up with a new plan quickly, which will apply from September. But precisely because it is short notice, students are concerned. Nevertheless, the executive board is sticking to the plan.

Vice-President Mirjam Bult says that some students are hindered by the co-optation right in finding housing. She is concerned. Bult: “I find it unacceptable that candidates are rejected because of characteristics they can’t do anything about. Excluding people on the basis of superficial characteristics such as gender, age, background or assumed living habits is not a choice. I also deliberately mention the word job application in this case. It shouldn’t be. But it does sometimes feel that way now. We want a change in the way the law is applied.”

No separate clubs
It is confirmed in student circles that international students in particular find it more difficult to find housing due to the current system. Campus houses often receive two hundred to three hundred emails from house hunters between May and September. The supply of housing is low and the demand is high.

Maarten Bonnema is a student and member of the university council  on behalf of the faction UReka. He says: “There are student houses in Enschede where it is not easy to enter if Dutch is not your native language. Other houses strive for a mix. With, for example, the comment that it’s not three countrymen who form a separate club.” Proponents of co-optation fear that they will have a roommate forced upon them if they are not allowed to choose for themselves.

What is notable about the issue is that the executive board does not formally have the authority to change the co-option, because the De Veste housing corporation is the owner of the campus houses. It is now considering the situation.

The credo on campus is often: Dutch only
The University of Twente (UT) in Enschede likes to boast that it is the most welcoming university in the Netherlands. But on campus, the credo is often Dutch only. It is more difficult for foreign freshmen to find a room than for students from their own country.

It is not the first time that this has led to discussion and Enschede is not unique in this. Since universities in the Netherlands have started to focus more on internationalization, housing foreign students has become an issue in several cities.

Previous discussions
At the UT, there was already discussion about the so-called co-optation right in 2010 and it happened again in 2017. Sander Lotze, head of internationalization at UT, described the system four years ago in this newspaper as “not the most ideal system” when it came to international student housing. But he didn’t want to get rid of it either.

But the subject is back on the agenda because of a sentence in UT’s Long-Term Strategic Housing Plan. That came up in a meeting of the University Council in December. Members of the council inferred from the sentence that co-optation might be on the cards. Vice-President Mirjam Bult of the UT Executive Board said in an explanation that she indeed wants to get rid of the current system. It would lead to discrimination. That sparked a heated discussion that continues to this day. Bult says the council asked to come up with a new plan soon.

Bult says the university council also thinks an adjustment to the co-option right is necessary. Still, the timing of the discussion may not be a bad thing for the executive board, as it is on the eve of Bult’s departure from UT. As of September 1st, she will step down and become a member of the Council of State in The Hague. If a blow is struck on a new form of co-optation before the summer, the issue will not end up on her successor’s plate.

Hospitaling – House Interviews
So the question is: what to do about co-optation? Bult wants a different system, one that is less exclusionary. One that is more inclusive. A system that reflects more the open image that UT likes to pride itself on. Head of internationalization Lotze saw the value of the current system in 2017, but felt that information to international students needed to improve. Prospective residents would not realize how hospiteren works.

This was true four years back and according to many UT students it still is. Student Maarten Bonnema sits on the university council on behalf of the fraction UReka. He says that in the summer, campus houses often receive two hundred to three hundred mails from prospective housemates for one room. In January there is another peak, but lower. This is the time of tthe outflow of bachelors. Bonnema: “Many EU students who do not know or understand the system of co-option send an email in the summer with one sentence, something like: I want to live in your house. Without a photo or explanation. Yes, then it is not surprising that you are not among the chosen ones.”

The Holy Grail
His story is confirmed by Dirk Koelewijn. He sits on the university council on behalf of the DAS party. He is an outspoken advocate of co-optation and says he does not know of a single student house that does not apply it. Koelewijn: “I do not deny that it is difficult for some to find a house. But modifying co-optation is not a solution. It is very popular and important among most students. For us, it is the holy grail. Especially in the corona crisis, the system proves its value, because then you depend more on each other.”

The mental pressure among students is high, says Koelewijn. “This is also evident from research at UT that was conducted before the corona crisis,” he says. “There is a need to study. We are under financial pressure. Much more so than in the days when our current members of the Executive Board and the members of the Cabinet in The Hague were studying. Then it’s extra important that there is social cohesion in a house. It is essential that you choose people who fit in with you. We experienced in our house that a co-occupant did not want to clean and did not participate in any activities. And I don’t think it’s surprising that residents like to speak Dutch in their own home. Because let’s be honest: the English of many people, including the Dutch, is not very good. Not good enough usually to express themselves properly.”

No advertising
But then the other side of the coin. Lefika Otisitswe is from Botswana and sits for the faction uTOP in the university council. “When I came to Enschede I got the impression that all Africans lived in the ITC hotel and all Dutch people lived on campus,” he says. “That felt like segregation. I couldn’t get around on campus myself and many more students feel that way. Not only international, but also Dutch youngsters. It’s hard to get housing in Enschede. There are houses whose occupants don’t want to live with non-Dutch speaking people. That’s not an advertisement for the Netherlands. But not only internationals think this way. In conversations with Dutch students, I hear that some of them also had a sour taste in their mouths after interviewing in a student house.”

The final say
So how should it be done? A difficult question for those involved. Mirjam Bult of the Executive Board wants a solution that everyone understands and that reflects the culture of the UT. Thus, there is talk of developing an algorithm that pairs students with a campus house based on their interests and not on their backgrounds.

The larger student fractions UReka and DAS in the u-council are open to improvements. But they don’t want to surrender completely to an algorithm. Maarten Bonnema of UReka sees something in pre-matching, but wants the campus houses to have the final say on who gets to live in a house. “It’s their sphere of life and their living room. They have to choose,” he says. “That’s not for the executive board to determine. But some kind of pre-selection is interesting. You can filter by characteristics such as hobbies whether someone is a studious or party person, follows a diet or smoking. Skin color or disabilities should not be an issue. And speaking Dutch? Yes, that is a good question. We’ll have to talk about that then.”

Dirk Koelewijn of DAS also does not feel for a dictate imposed from above. Lefika Otisitswe of uTOP thinks that the executive board should make the decision. He is positive about the idea of an algorithm, but for both parties. Both householders and house seekers must digitally indicate what they are looking for. Language or race should not play a role in any case.

Heavy word
Mirjam Bult notes that co-opting is now a heavy word on campus. “That’s a shame,” she says. “It seems like you’re either all for it or all against it. We analyze with the housing corporation and students where the problems are in the system and what improvements can be made. With the freshmen or sophomores, for example. We also want to visit mixed houses to see how students live there together. I think it’s nice when young people from different backgrounds live together. In a safe house, where the residents can work on their development.”

The housing corporation De Veste is considering adopting the co-optation. It is taking stock of how student housing corporations in other cities are handling it. “We want to adapt the regulations to the needs of our time,” says Richard Ditzel of De Veste. “This is done in consultation with the university, but especially with our central residents council on campus.” De Veste has 2,200 campus rooms, 60 percent of which are co opted. The rest are independent living spaces.

“Student House LosChiChis: ‘Actually, we’re each other’s best friends’
Residents of student houses on the UT campus like to choose their own roommates. The same is true for the students in Los ChiChis. “Once or twice a week we have a party. If you don’t want to participate in that, then maybe this house is less suitable for you.”

What is immediately apparent upon entering 43 Campuslaan is that the residents have a culture all their own. There are many important traditions and customs. Some residents wear sweaters with the name Los ChiChis. On a pillar in the living room are the handprints of almost all the residents since the 1980s.

“And we have an extensive program of activities,” says Sander Meinderts, the house oldest of Los ChiChis. “The Feuten Party is especially for new housemates, at the Super Bowl dinner party we eat American refreshments, Christmas dinner is traditionally in March, and then we have the house weekend. That’s in June. Usually we go for a weekend to the city or town where a new roommate is from.”

Fourteen residents
The house oldest himself has lived in Los ChiChis since 2015. He praises the close, mutual bond of the fourteen residents. “Actually, we’re each other’s best friends,” he says. “So close. We’re a party house, but that doesn’t cover the full scope. Serious conversations we have, too. And if someone wants to discuss a problem, there’s room for that.”

As for Los ChiChis’ right to decide new roommates for themselves, the residents are very clear about that. That is a right they do not want to give up, says Casper Thostrup. He wrote a letter to the u-council on behalf of the housemates, asking that any change to the co-option system be made with the utmost caution. “If we no longer have any say, then the unique identity of this house will be lost,” says Thostrup. “And that’s a shame. Contacts with other students you have on campus anyway. Whether it’s during sports, culture or education. But when you come home, you prefer to curl up on the couch with roommates you feel comfortable with.”

Learning Dutch
Residents Leon, Jonah, Ron, Casper, Sander, Iris and Anita recognize the difficulty of finding housing on campus, particularly for international students. They themselves are open to a foreign housemate. In fact, they had a German co-occupant a few years ago and a student from Egypt last year. The current residents are all born Dutch. “The unwritten rule is that the language of communication is Dutch,” says one of them. “An international student doesn’t have to speak the language upon entry. But we do ask to learn Dutch. The Egyptian did a university course. She spoke it in no time.”

Sander Meinderts puts The House Book on the table. The residents use it as a shared diary in which they describe their experiences. But it also contains questions that are asked of prospective co-tenants during the interviews. There should be an explanation, they think: “Some questions are namely quite hard. An example is the following question: Negro or ninja? We sometimes get special comments about that. Most students answer ninja, to which our follow-up question reads: Do you sometimes have something against Negroes?”

Serious types
The residents themselves can have a good laugh about it. They call it an example of “blunt humor” that new residents should be able to handle. But what if someone feels hurt by this? The residents can imagine. “But from our follow-up question, it is clear that we have absolutely nothing against international students. We see co-optation as a way for both parties to find out if they fit together. So that applies to the host as well.”

“Look, there are also houses where more serious types live together. Who mainly study in their rooms and do little together. We have no value judgments about that. Like us, they value co-optation. You want to end up in a house where you have a good student time.”

The choice is great for Los ChiChis. Every summer the mailbox is filled with about two hundred messages from prospective residents who want a room. How does the selection take place? Sander and Casper explain that the students go through the mails with a rough comb. “It will be clear that we don’t read everything carefully. That has to do with such a large quantity. After the pre-selection, we invite a number of candidates for an interview. We do three interviews in one evening. If more than half of the residents present like someone, they can come straight away. Origin plays no role.”

Housing shortage
“Yet we recognize the perception that many international students don’t know they need to introduce themselves. They write a one-line mail. But we don’t hire someone based on that. Iris almost turned it into a marriage proposal. That is the opposite. Well, you don’t say ‘no’ to that, of course. Incidentally, we think that the housing shortage also plays a role in the current debate on the use of cooptation. This is particularly true on campus in the summer. During Kick-Inn, people sleep in tents on campus. Some young people also do that because they haven’t found a room yet.”

“That problem also deserves a solution. Furthermore, we see that the way co-opting works out is sometimes disadvantageous. Especially for international and socially disadvantaged students. That’s something to think about. But it should not be the case that we will soon be given a list of names from which to choose.”


Translation from Deepl and Alina Ritter

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