Photo: SANDRA NEUMANN
Students sitting around a table talking to each other.

Student Self-Administration — Becoming an Advocate for the Community

When, almost five years ago, I moved into the hall of residence at Spandauer Damm, I was preoccupied with such thoughts: how do I connect with other students fast, and what’s the infamous campus life all about?

14.09.2020

by Viktoria Eckert, translation: Evdokia Prassa

All these questions and insecurities evaporated when, within a short period of time, I found my way in our common room for the first time: a party room called “Terminus” in the basement of our housing facility, where I partook in the general assembly of the student self-administration.

In the course of the years, I gained a comprehensive insight into the numerous task fields involved in a student self-administration process. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to talk more in-depth about this body and its significance to student life in the halls of residence — spoiler: it’s not about party-planning.

At the moment, there are 24 self-administration bodies across the 32 halls of residence that belong to studierendenWERK BERLIN, some of which go back decades. For instance, at the Sigmunds Hof housing facility, the walls of the self-administration’s Bierkeller feature posters of events that date back to the 60s. At Spandauer Damm, the inauguration of the self-administration body almost coincided with the erection of the house itself. A look at the first statute reveals the year 1995.

A self-administration statute encompasses inter alia formal guidelines on the establishment, operations, and financing of its body. Whether setting up a self-adminsitration is a necessity or not is up to the tenants of the house to decide via vote. Subsequently, a statute prepared in advance is put foward for discussion, and a board is elected. After this process has been successfully completed, the board members, whose positions are voluntary, can assume their tasks. Shaping communal life on campus involves the close contact between self-administration bodies and the administration of the respective hall of residence, through which the former receive monthly grants for the maintenance of common rooms, or one-off payments for the purpose of organising and hosting semester parties.

Additional financing options are derived through diverse sources, such as via the students’ autonomous management of the common washing facilities, a practice that has been running successfully for many years in the Spandauer Damm facility, benefitting its residents in the form of affordable washing rates. In return, the self-administration body is responsible for keeping equipment running and taking over the costs of any necessary repairs that may arise, as well as maintenance bills. A treasurer is appointed by the self-administration board with the task of overseeing the finances. Appointing a chairman is equally essential, as this is the person that represents the self-administration board in court. Depending on the size of the housing facility and the range of the board’s tasks, it is possible to set up further offices: for instance, the board can appoint speakers who will represent each house, or assessors who will be in charge of the meeting minutes. These gatherings give residents the necessary space and time to brainstorm about current affairs and event-planning, all the while constituting a low-threshold option for all tenants to solve problems and implement their own ideas to the benefit of their community.

This community life was almost put on hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic: during the lockdown, all rooms used for these purposes remained closed and all gatherings were prohibited. Parallel to the digitization of university lectures, self-administration meetings took place in the virtual space as well, and any exchanges between the residents were possible only via messenger services during this time.

In the course of the easing of lockdown measures over the past few weeks, self-administration bodies resumed their usual tasks and are gradually opening the common rooms one step at a time — in compliance with distancing and hygiene directives, of course. Hosting events in the near future will require a great amount of creativity on behalf of self-administration members — not to mention a high level of responsibility.

I initially mentioned that, currently, there are 24 self-administration bodies across the studierendenWERK halls of residence. What is also true, however, is that two of them are in the process of dissolving. More often than not, the reason for that can be traced back to a general lack of new active participants, and even to members who leave their position in a self-administration body without having ensured a timely replacement. Therefore, a well-functioning self-administration can by no means be taken for granted, and cannot be reduced to the work of the board. On the contrary, to be able to fulfil its tasks, it requires as much support from the community of residents as it can get. Under these conditions, the self-administration forum is a great starting point for students to gain a foothold in Berlin and in its infamous student life!

 

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