There are more student associations in Ghent than might you think. Heard of Engage already? With their activities, they want to make you think critically about different social issues. Board members Hayat, Kezban and Yousra talk passionately about their mission.
Why this particular desire to make students opinionated?
Yousra: "Higher education is often a bit narrow because you only gain knowledge about a very specific subject. You do get introductory courses on other fields in society, but that is limited. We believe that whoever graduates from higher education should also know what society you are ending up in. So we try to contribute to students' social awareness through various activities such as workshops and debates. We want to trigger students and make them form their own opinions on social issues."
That mission makes Engage unique as a student union. Do you also see some similarities with more traditional associations?
Hayat: "The goal of bringing people together around the same interest is the same as with any other student association. Being a student is more than just studying. You need 'something' outside to develop yourself. The focus is just different at every student union."
Yousra: "There is nothing wrong with a cantus or a city game. There should be something for everyone. But our founders were missing interesting events for students apart from pure entertainment."
How important is the social function of your association?
Yousra: "We live in a very individualistic society and studying is often just something lonely too. So it's really important to have a network, people you can hang out with."
Hayat: "Especially for students from migrant backgrounds like us. We want to offer those people a home base or safe place. But not just for them, we are there for everyone of course."
Yousra: "It's not the case with all, but students with a migration background are sometimes insecure because they have fewer examples around them of people in higher education. If you then end up in a group or association with students like yourself, you get much more motivation. You know you can do it yourself."
Hayat: "I think that with Engage we really do have an effect on the throughput of students at our university. I felt quite lonely in my first year. But as soon as I got to know Engage, I felt more in place. I had a goal and I knew I would get there."
Yousra: "I also felt less insecure as soon as I joined Engage. You have people around you. Likeminded people, even though we don't have to have the same opinion on everything. But Engage really enriched my student life."
Kezban: "You're capable of more than you think. I think of myself that I have really blossomed this year. I have become more self-confident and I have also gained a lot wisdom from all the topics we have organized events around."
One of those events is the Engage Trail, which is a kind of fictional trial. Can you tell something more about it?
Yousra: "In our Trials, we always bring together two groups of three experts in a fictitious court case to debate a particular topic. One group is pro and one group is contra a proposition, with each speaker given 15 minutes to make a plea. The audience of students present are the so-called judges who get to vote at the end of the debate."
"In the first semester, for example, we held an Engage Trial on the proposition of whether student baptisms are moral or not. It is a topic that was constantly in the news, yet it was difficult to find speakers who wanted to take a stand because the topic is so sensitive."
Hayat: "A lot of students came to that Engage Trial, which shows that there was a need for a debate on student baptisms."
Yousra: "It was remarkable that in the beginning the pro and contra parties were somewhat hostile towards each other, but a the end of the evening they had found common ground. That's nice to demonstrate with our Trials. Nothing is black and white."
You have only been around since 2015. What does the future hold for Engage?
Hayat: "I hope that in a few years, Engage will be completely ingrained in Ghent student life. That everyone knows what we stand for."
Yousra: "There is no time for it at the moment, but I would be super excited to expand Engage to other student cities. Just because we are so unique. And that my future children can become members of Engage one day." (laughs)
There's more to being a student than just studying. Take the test on durfdoen.be and find out which association you will feel at home in.
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