For students by students: Why student organisations like Kriterion matter

For students by students: Why student organisations like Kriterion matter

Last week I went to Studio K for the first time to have dinner and watch a new film. Studio K is one of Kriterion’s branches, an art-house movie theatre and café located on the East side of Amsterdam. But, Kriterion is more than just a café. 

While I was most looking forward to the movie, Kriterion’s history made the experience much more interesting. It finds its origins in the Second World War, specifically in the Nazi Resistance Movement of students in Amsterdam. Due to the violent circumstances of the era, many students were forced to discontinue their studies. As a response, one of the members of the resistance group, Piet Meerburg, decided to start a movie theatre where students could work and finance their studies. And so Kriterion was born on June 1st, 1945; that’s exactly 77 years ago the day this article was published! To give homage to an initiative that helped save many student lives, I want to talk about how Kriterion continues to benefit and support the student communities of Amsterdam. 

While the original goal of the cinema was to help students pay for their education, it has also provided them with spaces for people to come together and discuss new ideas. The student spirit at Kriterion is still filled with chatter and creativity. It’s impossible to walk down the café street near the Roeterseiland building and ignore the clamour of students laughing and brainstorming away. Many who study at the campus will probably agree that it’s the ideal meet-up spot after class. The atmosphere on the way from the campus to the café is unmatched; it feels like a sort of coincidentally organised field trip. Kriterion may seem like just a hang-out spot for students, but that’s precisely what makes it so special. On top of that, Kriterion has always provided students with different ways to earn a living and speak out on important matters at the university. The student union, ASVA (General Student Association Amsterdam) also started as an initiative by students who were part of the Nazi resistance. The union was located in Kriterion until 1966 and still plays an important role in student life today. In 1949, Kriterion also set up a babysitting centre (Oppascentrale) to provide them with work after the war. Today, it’s an ongoing student business that maintains its original goals.

Since Kriterion, many students have followed its example of starting a student organisation. YOUvA Today, the website you’re on right now is the result of a bottom-up student initiative which aims to tell stories about student life at the University of Amsterdam. Many of its authors write about things they specifically find important and they can reflect their personal opinions which otherwise would’ve been left unheard. HeForShe x UvA aims to raise awareness about social issues regarding gender inequalities, discrimination and privilege. It organises workshops and offers stories which strive toward equality and solidarity with minority groups. Other organisations like University Rebellion UvA aim to shed light on the university’s harmful practices. For example, they speak about the current controversial relationship between the UvA and Shell. They’ve already set up a petition for the university to cut its ties with the oil and gas company. In agreement with this, it’s important to know that Kriterion also owns a gas station, entirely run by students. While this might pose some questions about Kriterion and its priorities, it can’t be denied that it has helped many students get a job in Amsterdam. From 1945 to this day, Kriterion along with Studio K, Oppascentrale, the gas station, movie theatre De Uitkijk, and the Skek café all exist as a result of undeniable student energy and effort to organise student life. 

Student organisations have always mattered because they provide students with independence and the ability to work and discuss amongst themselves. Kriterion, just like the other organisation and unions, aids undergraduates in earning a living but also shapes the student world in Amsterdam. As it was born in an era of resistance, it continues to give power and life to the students by giving them the space to collaborate amongst themselves. 

Photo: Lea Borsboom