After an absence of three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, the students of Brussels’ free universities VUB and ULB once again filled the centre of Brussels to celebrate the founder of the institutions, known as St-V. Beforehand, numerous official activities took place to honour the foundation of the university on 20 November 1834 by Théodore Verhaegen. This year, for the first time, the celebration was spread over two days: Thursday 17 and Friday 18 November (20 November falls on a Sunday).
After three years of forced postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Saint-V was finally back. The student party, during which the students of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Free University of Brussels (ULB) celebrate each year the founding of their university on November 20, 1834 by Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, was once again able to take place. Thousands of Brussels students and many former students gathered at the Grand Sablon in Brussels, eager to participate in a memorable party. And she was. But it also turned out to be a committed party…
The highlight was at the Grote Zavel where, on Friday afternoon, thousands of students and former students gathered for another exuberant St-V celebration. As usual, the Brussels Student Society and the Association des Cercles Etudiants have chosen a topical theme: “Bear your laws without aborting our rights.”
“The theme is not only incredibly topical given that abortion rights and broader women’s rights are under pressure in several parts of the world, it also refers to a wider social climate in which acquired human rights and scientific certainties are no longer taken for granted due to disinformation and polarisation.” BSG president Joyce Verbrugghen
At 16.30, the procession moved from the Zavel to the steps of the Beurs building, where students sang the hymns of VUB and ULB: the Lied Van Geen Taal and Le Semeur.
The rectors of both universities were delighted that St-V celebrations can take place again.
Jan Danckaert (VUB): “It has been three years since the Verhaegen commemoration was able to physically and fully take place. For us, St-V is extremely important. After all, in these turbulent times, we need the compass that Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen and his supporters have passed on to us, the compass of independent research, free thinking and a thorough social commitment.”
Annemie Schaus (ULB): “Covid-19 forced us to cancel the Saint-Verhaegen festivities in past years. This year, we are happy to bring together the two university communities of ULB and VUB to highlight our common commitment, with our partners from the City of Brussels and the municipality of Elsene.”
Since 2019, St-V has been part of the Brussels Region’s inventory of intangible cultural heritage. It received this recognition for its contribution to the city’s “multifaceted, independent and rebellious character and identity”.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close was also pleased: “The City of Brussels is delighted that students will once again be able to celebrate their traditional St-V on 18 November. Last month, the third edition of the graduation ceremony for 6,000 students from VUB and ULB took place on the Grote Markt. The historical ties between Brussels and its two universities are getting stronger and stronger. I wish everyone a great St-V.”
“Not my folklore”
However, this was not the only theme that the Brussels StudentenGenootschap (BSG) of the VUB wanted to highlight. The leading members of the student circles had distributed badges bearing the inscription “Niet mijn folklore” (“Not my folklore”). With this message, they want to make it clear that inappropriate behavior has no place in the life of associations or in their folklore.
“This statement, a badge that carries a clear message, must make it known that our student community is really committed and opposed to this type of behavior”, explains Joyce about the action. “Thanks in particular to the new baptism charter, we want to create a secure environment where we can do baptisms and party. An environment in which we can maintain our folk traditions, without ignoring the current mentality of the society in which we live. Inappropriate behavior is not part of our folklore and never will be.”