Roeland Voorbergen (19) is the chairman of the Central Student Council (CSR). He’s tasked with dealing with all kinds of matters that go on at university, but what does he actually do all day? ‘The UvA student population is the same size as the entire population of my hometown.’
When I approach Roeland asking if I can follow him everywhere for two days, he’s quick to warn me: ‘Tagging along with me means you’ll sometimes have to sit quietly listening to meetings for a very long period of time’, he writes. It proves to be an omen of the days to come. In the space of two days he is – and therefore I am too – present at six meetings. Sometimes with cake, but usually without.
Thursday 10:00 am Consultation, Crea Café
For the first meeting of the day, Roeland is seated at a table in the Crea Café. ‘I’m sat here quite often. It's convenient, because it’s right below my office,’ he says. During the meeting, he discusses topics using abbreviations. GV, OV, COR, FSR… Occasionally he explains them, but most of them go over my head. He apologises: ‘We just love abbreviations. We abbreviate everything, even the meetings are V.’ When he’s told that someone isn’t working fast enough, he writes it down as an agenda item for tomorrow. ‘Get angry, it says. He laughs. ‘I don't really mean it, but I do have to chase people a bit. I don’t really get angry.’
Thursday 12:00 pm Consultation student assessor, Crea Café
Roeland gets a cappuccino during the second meeting of the day. ‘This is pretty much what I do all day: meet people and drink coffee. In between, I’ll read documents to prepare for all those meetings.’ After a short consultation, he walks up the stairs from Crea to the office of the Central Student Council. ‘Sorry, it's a bit of a mess. That’s what you get when you put a bunch of students together in a room.’ There are a few empty beer bottles in the cupboard and a half-empty bottle of red wine on a desk. A black sign with white letters adorns the corner: ‘All Cats Are Beautiful meow meow meow,’ it says. Next to it sits a huge pink rubber ducky.
Roeland turns out to be a busy guy. While I ask him questions, he quickly eats a pain au chocolat for lunch. Occasionally he checks his calendar – ‘Oh, we have to be at P.C. Hoofthuis later’ – or sends an e-mail. ‘I usually don't have time to have a proper lunch, so I just eat a sandwich in front of the pc, or on my way to one of those many meetings.’ A whiteboard hangs across from him. In faded letters it reads: ‘If we don't know what we're doing we shouldn't do it.’
Thursday 1:00 pm Consultation on sustainability, Crea
Roeland grew up in the city of Gorinchem, which has ‘a population the same size as the UvA student population’, and ended up at the CSR through a position as a council assistant and head of student party TOF. He’s only 19 years old. ‘People often think I’m older. I quite like that, because that way I feel like I'm being taken more seriously,’ he says. As chairman, he discusses the sustainability of the UvA, the binding study advice, but also gender-neutral toilets. ‘All those different subjects make my job fun. The UvA is a big puzzle that I can solve piece by piece from my position on the student council.’
He’s mainly concerned with student accommodation, but ‘the trick is to know exactly enough about everything to be able to talk about it’. He schedules his meetings meticulously and he’s usually quick to respond to e-mails. ‘You have to keep on top of things, otherwise you’ll go crazy. Some of my predecessors have experienced burnouts, I want to prevent that.’ After half an hour of meetings, he gives me a signal. ‘Time to go.’
Thursday 1:30 pm Faculty meeting, P.C. Hoofthuis
‘I’m also a representative of the Faculty of Humanities. I do that for a few hours a week, alongside working at the CSR,’ he says during our bike ride. ‘I want to make sure I’m there often, so occasionally I have to skip another meeting for that.’ He cycles back and forth between the different university buildings every day. He points to the left. ‘Look, that’s the Maagdenhuis, you can often find me there. It’s a shame we have a meeting to go to, otherwise I would have given you a tour.’
Since a few weeks, he’s not only been working at the university, he’s been living there, too. He moved to the student residences in the Oudemanhuispoort just last month. ‘It’s all very basic, and I have a lot of housemates. But you can’t beat the location…’ Is it difficult to maintain a healthy work and life balance now that he’s both working and living at the university? ‘No, it’s not too bad, although I suppose it might have been, had I moved to Roeterseiland. It’s also not possible to come to lectures using a shortcut within the building. To prevent students showing up to lectures in their pyjamas, it’s mandatory for students to enter the building from the outside. After an hour of meetings, I’m asked to leave. ‘This part of the meeting is confidential. See you tomorrow!'
Friday 10:00 am Central Works Council consultation, University Library
At the start of the meeting there are pastries from bakery Holtkamp on the table. ‘They’re not always there, but today marks our 100th meeting. Coffee?’ When the meeting starts, Roeland puts his glasses on and takes his shoes off, revealing blue socks with black dots. ‘It relaxes me. Although I would never take off my flip flops or sandals during a meeting. Bare feet would be taking it too far.’
In the corner, an interpreter whispers into a microphone. Two students wear headphones. A few international students have recently joined the CSR, so everything needs to be translated from Dutch to English. Roeland presides over the meeting with people who are two, sometimes three times older than he is. Yet he remains calm while rubbing his shoeless feet. ‘I'm just going to explain it using football as an analogy,’ someone starts. ‘We are now playing in the Premier League and we want to go to the World Cup. That’s ambitious, of course, but it’s not feasible.’ The interpreter translates it for those present with headphones.
Friday 2:30 pm Finance meeting, Crea
During the meeting with the CSR, a handful of people are sitting in a room. A birthday is being celebrated in the corridor. We hear horns being honked and students are walking around with party hats. Inside, students discuss the smoking policy on campus. On one of the laptops, I spot a cat sticker with the slogan ‘cats not cuts’. Afterwards, I ask Roeland if he still has time to study between all those meetings. ‘No, I won't do that this year, but I do miss studying. I am in my second year and right now I spend all my time on the CSR. I actually don't have that much experience being a student.’
Two years ago he was still in high school and now he is the representative of all students at the UvA. ‘I am not very visible. I do a lot and put in a lot of work for students, but they aren’t aware of who I am and what I do. It would be great if more students got involved in university politics.’