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A True Student Tradition: The Constitution Drink

A new year of lectures has started which means busy streets, busy lectures halls. Busy everything. Moreover, the new academic year announces the change of most boards of the study associations. Scintilla is no exception in this. As I’m sure you have all read earlier in this edition of the Vonk, a new board has been constituted. Accompanying this constitution is a drink: the constitution drink. This is not your ordinary drink in the Abscint on the Thursday afternoon. Quite on the contrary; if you enter sometime after four, you will wander into a prime example of the craziness that is the student life and it is a tradition that might need some explanation for the inexperienced.

In the essence, the constitution drink allows boards of other associations to meet and congratulate the newly constituted board. They can do this by so called ‘recipiëren’ or meeting the new board. Since there are many different boards, some coordination is required. In charge of this process is the master-pedel. He/she is accompanied by a small army of ‘pedellen’ to maintain the peace.

The term pedel is not something the students came up with, but it is something that originates from the academic world. Back in the 13th century, pedellen or pedels (the alternative plural form) oversaw most of the administrative tasks of the university. This could include the sales of books, the announcement of doctoral promotions and more.

In the current day and age the pedel has fewer tasks and is mainly devoted to the ceremonial tasks. He or she precedes the rector magnificus during official occasions. The more notable task of the pedel however, is the ending of a doctoral ceremony. At most (Dutch) universities, the pedel would hit the floor with his/her staff and announce the words: “Hora est” (The time has come) which ends the Ph.D. examination. At the University of Twente, which originates from 1961 and is quite young and modern, the pedel uses the words: “Mijnheer de rector, de tijd is verstreken.” (Mister rector, the time has run out). The pedellen also realised that the latin tern describes that one hour has passed whereas a normal defence at the University of Twente takes exactly 45 minutes before the pedel announces his words. Apart from this announcement, the pedel has little influence on the ceremony as this is lead by a different chairman.

The student version of this ceremony is quite different (and includes more beer), but is a ceremony nonetheless. It is during this special occasion that Scintilla showcases some of its rare items. The board brings out their medals which contain electronic components cast in amber; they also wear their newly acquired board-tie and pin. This is also one of the rare occasions the Scintilla staff gets to leave the room.

In the friendly atmosphere that is present around the Abscint all boards make an extra effort to watch over these special objects as nobody would want these special items to fall into the wrong hands during something what is known as ‘brassen’. As such, all board members are happy to assist in the safekeeping of these items. As it turns out, the visiting boards not only want to meet personally with the new board members, but they also want to meet very up close with Scintilla’s most precious items. They sometimes take the phrase ‘watching over the special items’ too serious as instead of keeping them within the Abscint, they bring them outside to what they call ‘safety’ to have a closer look. This behaviour is something the pedellen cannot allow.

Figure 1: ‘Pedellen’ from the University of Twente. (Photo from the UT Beeldbank)

Figure 1: ‘Pedellen’ from the University of Twente. (Photo from the UT Beeldbank)

What results is a stand-off between the pedellen and the visiting boards. In anticipation of what is to come, the board is located behind a line of pedellen far out of harm’s way at the start of the constitution drink. This might seem like a perfect solution to avoid that any of the board members is taken, but it is not fool proof.

The constitution drinks allow for great bonding between the different boards as they mischievously coordinate a raid together. The target of the raids is generally one of the board members or the Scintilla staff. At the start of their year, all board members are still 100% motivated, so stopping them and their ideas is not a simple feat. The conflicting interests of the board members and the pedellen usually results in a large clash, but without any violence. Brassen can only be performed by pushing and pulling people around.

During all the enthusiasm it might occur that someone tumbles over. In this case there is the universal term ‘HOOOOOOO!’ which puts a halt to all the brassen, but only momentarily. The person that fell is helped up and as soon as (s)he indicates that (s)he is ready to go again, the brassen continues as if nothing has happened. Something that is paramount to the constitution drink and perhaps the best part of it all.

If for some reason (mostly fun) you have to settle a dispute between two people, it is possible to initiate a bout of brassen with someone else. This is a different action with the same name as mentioned before. That is why it is sometimes also referred to as ‘zooien’. Brassen is initiated when one grabs hold of the other’s lapel. It is best to grab hold in return, otherwise you will lose immediately. The person that touches the ground first loses, so the goal is to remain standing the longest. After a lot of pushing and pulling someone loses but the two people remain friends nonetheless. They help each other up and proceed to drink a beer together and take a rest. This type of brassen is an effective method to stop people from taking objects, the other type of brassen.

The brassen and the other type of brassen go on until all beer is gone, it turns 7 o’clock, or all the items of value have successfully been taken by the visiting boards. At the end of the day you can leave with the safe feeling that your clothing may be damaged, but you remain unharmed. The new board members however will receive several letters, brasbrieven, discussing the terms for the return of the items that were taken the day before, but those are a story for another time…