The theme of this lustrum year, which marks TU/e’s 65th anniversary, is ‘Heroes like you.’ In keeping with this theme, Cursor will publish a series of double interviews throughout the year with the motto ‘Heroes Past and Present.’ TU/e employees ans students with proven track records, still working at the university or no longer under employment, are matched with their counterparts from today. In all possible fields: science, policy, or student life. This time we give the floor to Tim van Amstel, former commissioner of the Eindhoven Student Corps, and the current president Mijntje van der Lande.
Whilst Mijntje and Tim have never met before, from the first moment onwards, the conversation bubbles, tingles, and glows. Like the effervescence of a sparkling water - a chemistry that stems from society life with all its drinks, disputes, and networks. "Do you know that person? And that one?" Names fly across the table at the society club 'Ilium' on Ten Hagestraat. Common denominators are quickly found, especially when Tim gives her the relocation plan to the Ten Hagestraat from 2013. “For the archive.”
That archive is rather bulging. The E.S.C. can pride itself on a long, turbulent history. On 3 September 1957, the student association was founded in a café-restaurant called 'The Old Dutch'. At the time, the club consisted of 155 students and included only a single woman.
Today the ratio of men to women at the TU/e - and therefore also at the E.S.C. - is considerably more balanced. Mijntje van der Lande is exemplary of this change, not least as for this academic year, she is president of the student association. A difficult management task, both for her and for the other members of the Senate. No drinks, hardly any activities, and only a single fundraiser - all the result of the corona crisis. Although student life is at a low ebb, "the membership has grown to five hundred. How do you keep everything together from a distance? The society club is the binding agent of the association", she says.
“Five hundred members?”, Tim asks admiringly. “In my time there were 350. The association is becoming increasingly more popular.”
The (in)visibility of students during the corona crisis is reminiscent of times past, when Eindhoven and its student population were still two separate worlds. The city centre was located on the south side of the railway tracks, whilst the students were housed on the other side in the Bunker that housed three student associations: SSRE, Demos, and the E.S.C. In 2017, the concrete colossus closed its doors for good and the associations each acquired their own building in the city centre.
As the Senate’s Housing Commissioner, Tim was closely involved with the move. Before, during, and after his time on the board, for at least two years he ate, slept, and drank the move. “We wanted a building with character to increase the appeal of the association. The building on the Ten Hagestraat offered us everything the Bunker lacked. That building was an unattractive fortress in a deserted area. Conversely, the new clubhouse is centrally located between the nightlife of the Markt and Stratumseind. It creates more excitement in the city. We already knew at the time that increasingly more international students would come to Eindhoven. With the new building, our association would be a lot more accessible for them as well.”
Mijntje: “Yes, I do recognise that. I visited the Bunker during my introduction week. The E.S.C. had already moved, but the other two student associations were still there at the time. It has been a wise decision to move to Ten Hagestraat. We are accessible for all students now, because even non-members can visit our student pub, De Ballenbak. As a society club, this does mean you lose a little of your private character, but it does allow everyone to see how nice it is. In addition, it allows us to generate more income and thus support the association. This building adds something to the atmosphere in the city, I can feel that when I walk through this building. To me, it is inherent to the Eindhoven student corps.”
Eindhoven as a Student City?
Tim: “In my time, few members stayed in Eindhoven after graduating. Practically everyone left, and I watched them go: to Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Den Bosch, and sometimes to Rotterdam. Now I notice that graduates stay here. Not only because there are now a great many technical jobs available for them here, but also because the city itself has become more attractive.”
Whilst Mijntje observes a similar trend, as president of the E.S.C., she remains critical of student housing. “Eindhoven is indeed a beautiful city with great potential. Around me, I see members of the association who have established a connection with the city and want to contribute to it, rather than just study here and then leave again. For any proper student city, housing is key. Do you want to retain students? Then you must also offer them a place with which they can establish a connection."
According to Mijntje, the municipality is very ignorant of this problem. “Their policy is wrong. With the new rules it will be extremely difficult to continue living here. It is estimated that 1700 student houses will disappear, just now that we are doing so well to put Eindhoven on the map as a student city. The municipality promises to build for students, but if they do so in Best or Veldhoven, that does not offer any solutions. We want to be part of the centre and we do not want to be driven out of the city.
I understand that students are not the only group suffering from a housing shortage. I also understand that within certain neighbourhoods, an abundance of student houses, noise pollution, or strange landlords can be experienced as unpleasant. However, I think that for many neighbourhoods, students are actually a positive addition. You do not solve problems by spreading student houses, but by looking at them individually for each neighbourhood and each district separately. If, as a city, you scare away your students, you risk compromising your own knowledge economy.”
Together with other student associations, the E.S.C. regularly sits around the table with Eindhoven alderman Yasin Torunoglu to discuss housing - as did Tim during his tenure. He can remember only too well how “doable” the world seemed to him back then. “As a student, you could approach anyone and go anywhere. The final piece of the puzzle to finance the move to Ten Hagestraat was the contract with a major brewery. Aided by two reunionists - real heavyweights from the business world - we knocked on Bavaria's door. A surprise tactic, because they thought they were going to negotiate with a bunch of inexperienced students. We managed to make a very nice deal. You know, the E.S.C. is so old now that in every generation, there is someone who can help you find an internship, a job, social projects, or to set up your own business. You have all gone through the same process in which you are challenged enormously to be as enterprising and creative as possible. That lays a shared foundation for the rest of your lives.”
Is such a network not often seen as a little elitist by the outside world? No, is the unanimous and resolute answer. Mijntje: “We precisely aim to be accessible to everybody. In doing so, we guard our own identity as an association. Our members are ambitious. They want to get more out of their time as students than just studying. Whilst conviviality is paramount, we discourage non-committal attitudes. We do not want members who only hang around the bar, but rather encourage people who want to develop themselves and add something to the association. Some like to cook whilst others help out during the Liberation Festival or on King’s Day. All this is done on a voluntary basis because they feel invested in the club. That is why our association runs so smoothly.”
Tim: “In my time, we tried to maintain some kind of exclusive character. You could not just become a member of the association. With a hazing at the beginning of every academic year, you test people. How keen are they really to join the club? Are they prepared to endure its demands? Once you are a member of the E.S.C., you get a lot in return. By keeping the membership exciting and mysterious, you also make it nicer and more attractive.”
Mijntje: “Indeed, we want everyone to consider well the reasons they want to join the E.S.C. I was very happy with my choice, but I soon realised that not everyone shares that feeling. When I told my housemates that I was in the student corps, they reacted with surprise. They liked me a lot, but they would probably not have taken me in if they had known. After that experience, I became more reserved. This year on the board, I am taking a different approach. I just tell them and ask them what they think. Some of them struggle a little to find a politically correct answer [Mijntje laughs]. Of course, there are some members who have a big mouth. Whilst those are indeed the ones who stand out most, they only represent a small minority. I mainly try to promote the good side of the association and debunk the negative stereotypes.”
Tim: “We had the time of our lives—together in the pub until late, but also together in the lecture hall. Of course, whether you did that to follow the lectures, or merely to hear the stories from the night before, remains the question [Tim laughs]. But we were there! You do draw each other into the fact that you also just have to study. The dropout rate amongst E.S.C. members has always been very low. If you mess up your studies, you are also out of the club, then that is the end of it. You do not want to lose your friends, so that is how you create social capital. Getting as much out of it together as possible.”
The hazing is the ultimate application procedure. Tim and Mijntje definitely do not justify the excesses that sometimes occur. However—as the defence often states—the media are always a little too eager to report on these, whilst they are indeed only occasional incidents. Mijntje: “The ten stories about our actions for good causes should outweigh the occasional bad story about the corps or other student associations. Of course, because of the closed character of the hazing, there is a lot of ignorance, and all kinds of strange stories circulate in the outside world.”
Tim: “It is a test to see if you really want to become a member. It is a combination of physical and mental challenges in which you mainly get to know yourself. The mysterious aspect also counts because you do not know exactly what the hazing entails. You do not talk about it with others.”
Mijntje: “Oh yes, I completely went along with the puppet show, the theatre, the game. Looking back, you have to laugh at yourself, how stupid you were. However, you do meet yourself and grow towards each other: It is your year against the rest of the association to gain a stronger position. After the hazing, you suddenly see that the other members are actually also very nice. Now I am a few years older, and I would not be so into it anymore, but I do like that I was able to experience it, because I can still look back on it with my fellow students and smile.”
Tim: “The purpose of the hazing is to get to know the association and all its members quickly. A very efficient method that I also often see in working life. A pressure cooker to learn a lot of things quickly. Do you dare to get involved? Will you persevere? Will you go all the way? It is a test of competence. You really do create a bond with the other members, and that is the most important thing. Everyone who has been through it, knows that feeling of euphoria on the last day. The moment when it is over, and everyone is united. That is wonderful. You actually had to do something, and you did it. You are proud, happy, and satisfied. That feeling of togetherness is fantastic! In my opinion, the hazing is the best possible kick-start to a great study period.”
In 2007-2008, Tim van Amstel (1986) was a member of the senate of the E.S.C. [Eindhoven student society]. As the Housing Commissioner, he was also heavily involved in the relocation of the Ilium club to Ten Hagestraat in Eindhoven’s city centre. He has also been a member of the Meteoor fraternity. He started at TU/e in 2004 and in 2012, he passed his master's degree in mechanical engineering ‘with great appreciation’. He did one year of his master’s studies at the University of California in Berkeley. After his studies, Tim immediately went to work for energy suppliers RWE and Essent. In 2016, he made the step towards Innogy SE as a project manager in mergers and acquisitions. Three years later, he joined Powerhouse as part of the management team and was appointed Digital Director. Tim now lives in Den Bosch.
After graduating from high school in Zeist, Mijntje van der Lande (1998) travelled through Australia for several months as a backpacker, working in a hotel to gain experience. In 2017, she started the bachelor Psychology & Technology - Robotics at TU/e. She has been active for Business Core Eindhoven, which aims to stimulate contact between students and companies. Amongst others, Mijntje and six other students did this by organising lunch lectures and a large network symposium. As a ‘lunch learner’ she also presented books on entrepreneurship and self-development—a small business she managed for a year. In 2020, she became president of the Eindhoven Student Corps. She sings in the band Kordaat, which she founded in Eindhoven.