Leo Bosland: Toward a safe and healthy environment for a balanced student life

Leo Bosland has been an alderman and the deputy mayor in the municipality of Wageningen for two years now. As an alderman, he is responsible for the areas of Healthcare, Youth Care, Education, Local Food Transitioning and the implementation of the Environmental Planning Bill. He is a member of GroenLinks and strives to bring people together toward a more sustainable future.

We asked him about his experience as an alderman of Wageningen, his thoughts about student life in Wageningen and the municipality's role in students settling down, student well-being, and students' social safety in Wageningen.

"Wageningen is a beautiful place to live. It is compact and offers good living space and nature in the immediate surroundings. One out of four inhabitants is either a student or involved with WUR in some way. This has a direct impact on the city and its daily life. Students choose Wageningen deliberately, for the specific studies it offers. Two out of three start living here during their first year. They are aware that Wageningen has much more to offer than just a university, just look at the wide range of sports, activities, and student associations on offer.

Wageningen: diverse, broad-minded and big-hearted

Apart from the international university we have a large refugee community in Wageningen. Also, now with the current events in Ukraine, Wageningen has an important role in welcoming refugees and offering a safe environment. I have found Wageningen to be diverse, broad-minded and above all very big-hearted. Apart from being responsible for healthcare, well-being, education, and youth, I have two other special tasks.

From food transition to freedom celebration

First, I am responsible for the local food transition. This means looking for ways to improve the sustainability of local food production. But also more sustainable ways of distributing and consuming local food products. Secondly, I am responsible for the events that take place on 4 and 5 May, both commemoration and celebration. This year we aimed to create more space to remember that in this day and age we still can’t take freedom for granted, we need to preserve and protect people’s freedom. This also means the freedom to be who you want to be, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or background."

What is your current policy towards students in Wageningen?

"WUR students spend a few years of their life in Wageningen, but most of them move on to different parts of the world after graduation. We focus mostly on good student accommodation, student facilities, sports, and hospitality. However, we mustn’t neglect the other young residents of Wageningen. Students are young and want to enjoy life. Sometimes people drink a bit too much and accidents happen. Nowadays, we see young people experimenting more with drugs. As a municipality we provide information events and offer care where needed. Experimenting is a part of student life, but please be careful and stay safe while doing so.

I do agree that student well-being should receive more attention. My daughter is a student. She had a rough time missing the start of her student life as a result of COVID-19. But also for senior students, the elderly, people with disabilities and other residents of Wageningen, times have been tough these last couple of years."

How did Wageningen deal with students during COVID-19?

"During COVID-19 we were in close contact with WUR and student associations at all times. Every two weeks we held meetings with the associations to see what was possible for students. But, of course, we also had to talk about how students should act responsibly if they caught the virus. And in my opinion, apart from a few incidents, Wageningen students respected the COVID measures well. When the bars and restaurants had to close, the students tended to arrange more things among themselves. And I can understand this as I was a student once myself.

Currently, WUR starts a communication campaign on social safety for students.
What is the role of Wageningen in promoting social safety in the city?

"The municipality plays an important role in improving safety measures and preventing violence. Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in incidents as a result of the Dutch social climate becoming ‘rougher’. People are offended more easily nowadays. In Wageningen we also see more incidents regarding the safety of female students. This is currently receiving a lot of attention. We look for practical solutions and new ways of working together as a city to tackle these issues."

Do you have any tips for students?

"Wageningen offers a wide range of support and other amenities. I would advise students to check out our website, to see whether the city can help you explore your personal interests. Also, we are always looking for volunteers at the city library’s ‘Vrijwilligers Centrale’, both Dutch and International students.

I also want to draw attention to the organisations that have offered ‘walking buddies’ during COVID-19 and have continued to l do so. I think it’s important that people stay in contact with one another.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help. First look at what WUR has to offer and don’t forget the municipality has additional support systems. An example is ‘Startpunt’ where you can reach out for all your questions about well-being, our social map and if necessary financial support for students with a disability. Don’t wait too long, ask your questions, and accept the help that’s available to you. And don’t forget to contact each other and go for that occasional drink together!"

Student Training & Support newsletter May 2022 - by Bram van Manen