By Jeppe Damberg, UWCM
12th April, 2018
Unlike many older UWCs, UWC Maastricht educates students from kindergarten to secondary level, and on the latter level houses both residential and day students. The school has since the early days of its UWC status struggled with a divide between the day and residential students which particularly shows in the participation of student-led events and social groups. Though the school has come far since the beginnings and has implemented many strategies to close this gap, it persists.
The college has particularly struggled with participation from day students’ side in community events, such as conferences and Community Time, and often low numbers of day student attendees at student-led events have been excused by the fact that residential students live on campus while day students have to return home, making attending events at school logistically difficult. But this notion neglects some of the reasons why students participate in community events in the first place.
It is not always that students attend community events simply because the product presented to them is entertaining or educational. Often, it is that students are aware of the hard-work, dedication and purpose put into creating the conferences or student-led events and attend to respect and preserve that spirit. This is a particular sense of responsibility and respect for our peers present at most UWCs and which promotes participation in student-led events. It is a spirit, however, mostly felt by residential students at UWCM as most organising teams of student-led events are entirely made up of or dominated by residential students. For years, the lack of day student leadership has damaged the sense of solidarity that strengthens interest in conferences and other student-led events within the day student population. Instead, a sentiment of unfair exclusion which discourages interest and enthusiasm in community events persists in the day student population.
At the very moment of writing this article, the European Commission is pushing for a quota for women on company boards to address the slow progress to gender equality in the senior ranks of publicly listed businesses. Under the proposals, companies whose non-executive directors are more than 60% male would be required to prioritise women when candidates of equal merit were being considered for a post. The European Commission is aware that though many female leaders are capable of being on the boards of companies, their credibility is often undermined by all-male leadership who fail to acknowledge the potential of female candidates. Therefore, they deem it necessary to implement a quota. Such quota was already implemented in Norway in 2003, requiring that public companies fill at least 40% of their board seats with women, and has proven successful in promoting female leadership.
Similarly, though many day students are capable of taking responsibility in organising or leading conferences and events, their candidacy is often undermined by the majority of residential students who control the organisational bodies and application processes of these events or student bodies. To promote day student leadership, we need quotas.
This exclusion by residential students may not be intentional. When, for example, only a tiny proportion of the conferences’ organising teams were day students, some residential students argued the lack of day student leadership stemmed from the lack of applications, and so a more general lack of initiative from the day side. It is a cogent argument; when this paper opened up for applications, we, unfortunately, saw no day students aiming for a spot. And it is not only in conferences and this paper that we see day student representatives are few. This relationship applies to the Student Council too, and we see similar defensive arguments for why it is so. “But when Student Council elections came around in 2018 only one day student applied,” I recall a student saying. However, it is ultimately an argument that fails to consider why applications from day students are few in the first place. One need only a few conversations with day students at UWCM to understand that the small number of applicants to Student Council is merely an effect of a Council that has for years been entirely dominated by residential students. Indeed, when only a few day students applied for Student Council in 2017, more than a few day students with leadership qualities felt discouraged to apply for what they saw as a body dominated by the interest of residential students. Therefore, to curb day students’ notion of unfair exclusion, we need quotas.
Some residential students, however, worry that quotas undermine merit. In a discussion of whether day students should have had a quota in the Student Council elections of 2017, I recall myself, a member of Student Council, banishing quotas as undemocratic and unfair. The possibility of day students having voted for a residential student to represent them in the Council, I thought, undermined the entire argument for quotas. Concerning Student Council elections this is certainly a limitation of quotas, but to increase the appeal of day student representatives to day student voters, we need more day candidates. To increase the amount of day student candidates we need to break with day students notion of unfair exclusion by implementing quotas. Forr conferences and other student-led events where the admission to organising teams is carried out by the organising teams themselves, this limitation may not apply but another argument proves popular in that context. Some students believe that quotas would result in less competent candidates. But this notion comes from the irrational fear that the day students elected through quotas are less competent than their residential counterparts, and that the main reason for the low level of day candidates is that there are fewer competent potential day candidates. Day students are in this case perceived to have been nominated only because of their social grouping. Unfortunate and unfair.
A quota of 30-40% of day students on larger student-led events, conferences and organisational bodies would have many positive benefits to the school. By enabling day student leadership, we combat the perception of day students as outsiders that some residential students, who come from lengthy National Committee selection processes and may feel somewhat entitled, still have. Additionally, when day students see the commitment, effort and passion that comes with student leadership in their social group, they may feel encouraged to participate themselves too. These quotas need not be permanent, simply implementing them for a year would have a long-lasting impact. To close the divide between day and residential students we need day student leadership, and to do that we need quotas. If we neglect to promote day student leadership now, we will struggle down the line when residential students are proportionally less to day students.
Jeppe Damberg was a student at United World College Maastricht 2016-2018. He founded the Flying Dutchman in 2017.