"The tradition of student ribbons dates back to the 19th century and came over from Germany. German student associations considered them a status symbol," says Frea Vancraeynest, heritage officer at Histories and alumna of Ghent University. In her student days, she herself was part of the praesidium - the board - of the Flemish Historical Circle.
Sign of solidarity
Students always sought each other's company. "For students then - and often still today - the start of a university education also meant the start of their lives as young adults. They were away from home for the first time, and had to learn to stand on their own two feet. Then it is natural that they felt the urge to seek each other's company. Student unions began as loose clubs of like-minded souls. Not much later, outward appearances were added by which students made it clear to the outside world and to each other that they were members of a student union."
Each student union has a different ribbon, with different colours and shields, a kind of embroidered 'logo'. "The ribbons are part of your 'passport' as a club and make you recognisable. The start of the academic year as a first-year student is quite overwhelming. Such a ribbon says 'hello, join us' and creates a sense of belonging.
You don't just wear a student ribbon to show that you are a student, Frea also sees practical benefits. "It's useful for spotting your friends at a party or a big cantus," she laughs.
Not every ribbon is the same
Depending on your position on the hierarchical ladder within the club, you wear a different ribbon. Frea: "The praeses' ribbon is wider than that of another praesidium member. Often it has gold in it or gold tassels. Students who get baptised get a baptism ribbon. If you join the board of the club, you get a praesidium ribbon."
Consciously choose a ribbon
A student ribbon is not a must for a club. Some student associations opt for a button or a totebag. "The leaders of the clubs can make that choice. Ribbon wearing, like other student traditions, is dynamic and its usage evolves with the generation of students. So they consciously choose to maintain it or just move away from it.
Musical student association: "Every academic year we work very hard towards our concerts"
The Ghent University Symphonic Orchestra (GUSO) is a vibrant symphonic orchestra, entirely for and by students. During the academic year, the musicians enjoy playing and work diligently towards a sparkling double concert. We asked Liesel what makes GUSO so special.
"Student life is not just about drinking and partying"
Ut vivat, crescat et floreat: the student association SK Ghendt is 90 years old. The SK brings together 30 regional clubs, college clubs and pub clubs from Ghent and organises weekly activities for their members. The annual highlight? The commemoration of the occupation of the Gravensteen castle.
"We want to trigger students and make them form their own opinions"
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.
These students prefer tea to beer
Ghent student life has a rich tradition. Among the more than 100 associations in our city, there are also some unique ones. Moeder Theepot, for instance, has been bringing student tea lovers together for 10 years.