British initiations of new students constitute barely restrained hazing rituals. They mimic the so-called freshman initiations so rampant in the USA during the 1800s and 1900s. These caused a difficult-to-count-up number of serious injuries and many verifiable deaths. In England, it led to the initiation death of Ed Farmer.–Moderator Hank Nuwer
Does this quote so familiar?
“Students say, ‘It was done to me so I’m going to do it to the next lot and I’m going to make it a little worse’,” Mayne said. “We need to put a brake on that. We used to send kids up chimneys. We didn’t think that was a great thing so we stopped it.”
Each university has its own horror story: the freshers who had chillies rubbed on their genitals; the students forced to apple bob for a dead rat in a barrel of cider; the hockey players who had cooking oil poured into their eyes; or the new recruits made to down drinks that had been mixed with dog food or had live goldfish in them.
Not only do such degrading, and often dangerous, initiation ceremonies persist, anecdotal evidence suggests they are becoming more pernicious. Some unfortunate freshers arriving at university this month will be forced to perform even more outlandish rituals than their predecessors to join a club or society.
“It’s a problem that’s not necessarily worse in terms of frequency,” said Vince Mayne, CEO of British Universities & Colleges Sport (Bucs), “but sometimes the extremes have got worse.”
It might seem that the initiation ceremony is an endangered species. Students are drinking less and more are choosing not to drink at all. More awareness of what constitutes bullying and inappropriate behaviour is apparent on many campuses.
But two factors are helping it to thrive: the rise of social media, which has seen humiliating ceremonies posted on Instagram and Facebook for others to copy, and the importing from the US of “hazing”, the deliberate act of harassing someone or causing them embarrassment so that they might experience emotional or physical harm.
“The level of degradation is quite severe,” said Carwyn Jones, professor of sports ethics at Cardiff Metropolitan University. “There is a level of competition between years. It’s a case of ‘this year we’re in charge, so we’ve got to make it worse than what we had’.”
Last year Jones set his students an essay on initiation ceremonies. “It gave me a disturbing insight into what went on and the ambivalent attitude among some students towards them, mostly among those who were on sporting teams.”
Excessive drinking was a common thread, as was personal harm. Jones was told how a university swimming team had taped wine bottles to the hands of new members, one of whom had ended up in A&E.
Once, such ceremonies might have gone largely ignored. But the death in 2016 of Newcastle University student Ed Farmer, 20, following an “initiation-style” bar crawl, has proved a wake-up call.
Farmer’s father, Jeremy, has called for a “line in the sand” to be drawn so that “from here on in everybody knows initiations are banned and if you step over that line you will be removed from university”.
In response to Farmer’s death, Newcastle University and Universities UK will this month unveil an initiative aimed at educating all students – male and female; the ceremonies do not discriminate – about the risks. It follows a high-level roundtable meeting in July attended by a host of organisations concerned with student welfare.