In one of the many big rooms on the campus of the Free University of Brussels, a crowd gathers in the evening. Dressed in many ways, from casual hoodies to lab coats and cloaks. All of them are members of SWAMP, the Society of Weird And Mad People. They come here tonight to celebrate, sing, and drink to their shared geekiness.
SWAMP is one of the many student associations of the university. Being hallmarked for their weekly (board) game nights and many roleplay events. Their vice-president, Quentin Delpütz, isn’t even part of the university anymore, but his love for SWAMP and its people means he’ll never be able to leave. The large room where SWAMP is meeting tonight has a basic set up, large wooden tables and benches. As soon as the lights are turned off the candles on the few tables illuminate the room. That is when the singing starts.
Listen here to hear Quentin and Lotte De Smedt talk about their experiences and love for SWAMP:
“Do what you want to do, and don’t do what you don’t want to do.”
Student associations have built up a track record for dangerous and even deadly initiations and baptisms, in Belgium a student died during an initiation event as recent as the 31st of October. Alcohol, odd challenges, and peer pressure can quickly make someone do things they’d normally not do. SWAMP is vehemently against this kind of initiations and atmosphere.
Quentin explains that SWAMP’s baptism is done in the full spirit of their association. “This year we’d just dress up as Vikings and then we play out a big game with a story.” Their full initiations have a personalised task for everyone. “But if someone really doesn’t want to do something or aren’t comfortable, they can just say no. Then we move on and give them another task.”
“It’s more about having everyone be a big group, and always being in good vibes.”
Lotte adds how their club wants to attract people and make them feel accepted. “More so than be like, ‘oh we are really exclusive, and you can only join if you do this, and this, and this.’” She thinks that letting people have a choice and participate on their own accord is a better way. “Because of that I think we’re all just on big friend group, and I think that is really nice.”
When asked about the impact of SWAMP on overall geek culture, and the acceptance, Lotte tells how there’s often a lot of misconceptions about their association. “I have heard from people before I even joined that I shouldn’t join them because they’re all weirdos. But I did join because of my cousin who was already in the board.” Her experiences have been totally different than what others make it out to be.
“It’s really just an accepting group.” Even people who are not into the same games as others can still find their place in the group. “One of my best friends in the association, I have almost nothing in common with when it comes to geeky stuff. But you can still get along and get to know people.” Lotte does admit that there are stigmas attached to SWAMP, like every association. People come in with different expectations of SWAMP and what they do. “There have always been new people who come to our association, like the first couple events of the year, thinking it’s something else than we actually are. But they usually don’t come back afterwards.” Quentin adds that these are very rare occurrences.
Both of them blend into the crowd, joining in with the singing and drinking. On the ceiling is even a decibel meter, and with every new song the numbers tick just a bit higher than the last. Once the silence of the rest of the campus and city come back into play, the cheerful singing and atmosphere will quickly stay in the back of the mind.