from August 29, 2022 to September 30, 2022
Published on August 29, 2022 Updated on August 29, 2022

A student working for EUTOPIA: the peculiar experience of EUTOPIA Week BXL

Article by Thomas T’Joen, Communications Officer for EUTOPIA, CY Cergy Paris Université. Photos provided by the VUB.

The fifth EUTOPIA Week: the pilot project entering its last stretch, a time for recollecting on what was achieved and what’s to come

I have been working at CY Cergy Paris University as a communication officer for EUTOPIA since September 2020, in an apprenticeship mandatory to finish my master’s degree in communications. I know all too well the challenges of being a student engaged in EUTOPIA activities while finding time for studying. Still, I also have my responsibilities as a member of the central communication team to attend to. My position in EUTOPIA is, therefore, one of contrasts.

Events like this EUTOPIA Week are the crystallization of this contrast as I get to meet and spend time with many students from all over the alliance, all of whom I would be glad to now call friends, all the while my schedule is stock full of interesting and fascinating events, seminars, and visits that I must pay close attention to fulfil my duties of communicating about them. The very first of those was the Opening Ceremony.

The Opening Ceremony of EUTOPIA Week BXL was the most impactful we’ve ever had and was a great way to kick off the week. With the end of the pilot project of EUTOPIA looming on the horizon, VUB’s rector Jan Danckaert vowed that EUTOPIA shall outlast, as it is “a lever of transformation for our 10 universities”, while EUTOPIA’s Secretary General Nikki Muckle added that “EUTOPIA gives us a voice to be heard on a European level, which our independent institutions didn’t have”.

We looked back at what EUTOPIA has achieved over three years, such as the creation of thirty Learning Communities, the success of the EUTOPIA Science & Innovation Fellowships (SIF), and the enlargement of the alliance to four new universities in the last year… It was also a time to thank the people who made these achievements possible. As is now the tradition in EUTOPIA, VUB’s former rector Caroline Pauwels was awarded a medal welcoming her to the ‘EUTOPIA Academy’ and was thanked for pushing forward the EUTOPIA project and for her devotion to making VUB a truly internationally open university. Unfortunately, she could not be present during the ceremony, so rector Jan Danckaert received the medal for her. Ms Pauwels passed away on August 5th from complications due to the cancer she had been fighting for years. She will be remembered as one of the founders of the EUTOPIA alliance and one of its most vocal proponent.

The highlights of my week: student engagement, from the Knowledge Bazaar to ‘Decolonize Higher Education.’

There were too many events for one, or even two people, to see it all during EUTOPIA Week Brussels. So, the communication team from CY split up and explored Brussels individually, only sometimes crossing paths or seeing each other tweet or post stories on Instagram.

My personal journey took me from one end of Brussels to the other, from a historically painted visit of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean on the other side of the Willebroeck canal to the north-west to the VUB Campus facilities in Ixelles in the south-east, without forgetting the Brussels City Hall and the European Parliament building in the heart of the capital of Europe.

The main highlights of my week, of which there are many, come from the engagement of students of the EUTOPIA alliance, like when on the afternoon of the very first day, I attended the closing of the VUB’s Knowledge Bazaar exhibition. The Knowledge Bazaar, presented as a “marketplace of ideas”, was an experimental event where teams of students from the alliance were tasked to bridge art and science, to translate research projects into art. The event and exhibition of most of the results happened online (see HERE), but the VUB used a previously existing relation and partnership with KVS -the Royal Flemish Theater in the heart of Bruxelles- to publicly exhibit their produced works of art, giving life to the Mindblowers exhibition, where I got to meet students from the VUB and the University of Ljubljana who’d participated.


Later during the week, I had the chance to lunch with the Student Representatives of EUTOPIA in the EUTOPIA Student Council, the voice of students in the governance structures of the alliance. That time with them was eye-opening as I saw the level of their drive and engagement within EUTOPIA. They are hard at work in bringing a youthful touch to the governance of EUTOPIA, and they only wish to be able to do more.

Lastly, I finished my week early on Thursday, having attended the “Decolonize Higher Education” session by VUB alumni and Project Coordinator Latifah Abdou, who pedagogically explained the concept of decolonization, or ‘how to undo the lasting effects of colonization in the now’. She was helped in this endeavour by Karen Celis, co-lead of the work on inclusion for EUTOPIA at the VUB. Ms Abdou emphasized that the concept of inclusion is not enough to eradicate the internalized biases we all suffer from, as ‘inclusion’ only serves to perpetuate the current system; to just ‘add inclusive authors at the end of the bibliography. To decolonize higher education, the key is to tear down the current models of knowledge and build them anew, far from their origins as curricula formed by and for white heteronormative males, integrating all forms and manners of knowledge from the ground up.
Integration instead of inclusion. A way we may want to follow.

What’s to happen next for EUTOPIA?

EUTOPIA Week BXL gave way to summer, a time for rest though the whole of Europe was once again consumed for multiple weeks by heat waves that are more and more commonplace. In September 2022, the alliance begins the final stretch of its pilot project, EUTOPIA 2050, but the road ahead goes farther still.

In late July 2022, EUTOPIA was awarded funding for its next project, EUTOPIA MORE, securing four more years of funded EUTOPIA activities, at the very least. On top of that, the other EUTOPIA projects (Science and Innovation Fellowships, TRAIN, and Flecslab) will also continue. The horizon is clear, and there is work to be done. I may not be a student anymore in September 2022, but I am still engaged in Europe and EUTOPIA.

To the EUTOPIA community, I say, see you in Ljubljana in November to celebrate the end of the 2050 project and the start of something MORE…