A look back on the opening of the 2018 academic year

Bright Communities

This should not be that difficult in today’s Connected World, in which worldwide networks increasingly determine our economy, our culture, our relationships and our immediate surroundings. But we also have to ask ourselves how loneliness and fake news have become such major topics, despite this increased connectivity.

Het cortège komt de zaal binnen onder de ritmische klanken van de band KOFFIE.
Everyone files into the auditorium to the rhythmic sounds of music provided by KOFFIE.

Mirjam van Praag, the President of the Executive Board, used her inaugural opening address to explain how Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam plans to position itself in this newly ‘Connected World’. She provided an impression of what our university would look like in the future and announced the launch of a number of interconnected programmes aimed at reaching our goals.

Mirjam van Praag: Wij willen dat onze studenten niet alleen ‘iets’ worden, maar ook ‘iemand’ worden.
Mirjam van Praag: We don’t want our students to just ‘become something’ – we also want them to ‘become

A Broader Mind
VU Amsterdam will be introducing a teaching programme entitled ‘A Broader Mind’, which will address social issues and focus on personal development. Van Praag: ‘Today’s university is a good place to “become something”, but it should also provide students with the opportunity to “become someone”. In doing so, we’ll be encouraging human interaction and relationships to defeat loneliness by applying the full strength and teaching power of our diverse academic community.’

As part of the ‘A Broader Mind’ programme, undergraduate students will devote themselves to a teaching programme and will work together with lecturers on developing, implementing and improving it. After a pilot phase in 2019 that will involve around 500 students, all students at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will be pursuing their education in line with this teaching programme. The second part of ‘A Broader Mind’ will be Community Service Learning in which students will be voluntarily applying their academic skills to solve social issues.

3D: a platform for debate
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will also be opening 3D: a new platform for debate, dialogue and diversity, with a three-dimensional approach. Van Praag: ‘We’ve assembled a focus group made up of a highly varied bunch of students and staff who will put their heads together about organizing debates, dialogues and pizza sessions. How we can make sure that everyone participates in 3D? How can we discuss things openly and ensure mutual understanding? And how can we ensure that issues are explained and debated from both sides? These are some of the questions they’ll try to answer. We want the entire campus to be buzzing with these kinds of activities – starting from the bottom up.’

Next, Hugo de Jonge, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, gave a speech about the challenges faced by students, the government and the university in the ‘Connected World’. De Jonge: ‘We live in a connected world in which we can always have contact with others, even when we’re alone. Yet despite all of these communities, all those ideals held dear by the first internet pioneers, and all the information available at our fingertips, we still live in a hopelessly divided country and world. We seem to care less and less about other people’s views and experiences.’ De Jonge also addressed the students – ‘the brightest minds in the Netherlands’ – asking them to not just take responsibility for their own academic progress, but also for our progress as a country. De Jong called on them to ‘look up from their computer screens and pop the bubble they’re living in. In other words, let’s focus less on our own individuality and more on the communities we live in. Let’s take advantage of the fantastic opportunities offered by today’s virtual world to create a robust society in which we’re truly connected with each other.’

Hugo de Jonge: Geef niet alleen vorm aan je eigen toekomst maar ook aan een samenleving waarin we omzien naar elkaar.
Hugo de Jonge: Shape not only your own future but also a society in which we care for each other.

VU alumna and politician Tanja Jadnanansing (‘Serving more than your own interests – that’s what I learned at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’) led a talk show with students and researchers about the pros and cons of ‘Bright Communities’, in which the guests shared what had been happening in their own networks. Student Nouri Mabrouk advised: ‘Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. You might be faced with some problems at first, but you’ll learn from them. The only way to become someone is by daring to fail.’

Tanja Jadnanansing: “Ik ga proberen u uit uw bubbel te halen”.
Tanja Jadnanansing: ‘I’m going to try to get you out of your bubble’

Watch a recording of the livestream.

De Amsterdamse band KOFFIE met hun Afrobeat-grooves maakte er een feestje van.
KOFFIE – an Amsterdam band – got the crowd moving with their Afrobeat sound.

“In contact staan met anderen geeft vertrouwen en creëert nieuwe sociale netwerken.”
‘Contact with others results in mutual trust and creates new social networks.’

Photos: Marieke Wijntjes