Why do student club members wear ribbons?

18 January 2024 |

"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.

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