CHILEâ€™S UNIVERSITY STUDENTS FACE INITIATION AND HAZING RITES
(March 8, 2007) At the beginning of each school year Santiago streets are crammed with thousands of Chilean university students begging for money. Their clothes are torn apart, their bodies covered in pestilent spices and some of them even have their heads partially shaved.
What might first appear to be aftereffect of some natural catastrophe is, instead, an annual initiation rite, when first year university students are â€œwelcomedâ€ by those in the second year. This hazing practice, known as â€œmechoneo,â€ has been a common practice in Chileâ€™s traditional universities for 40 years, and private universities have recently adopted it as well.
Students from University of Chileâ€™s schools of Engineering and Law also participate in what has been called the â€œbattle for the bridge.â€ New students engage a food fight in the middle of Santiagoâ€™s Pio Nono Bridge, which divides the two schools. The students throw rotten vegetables and fruit at each other while wielding their schoolâ€™s banners.
Many universities worry about the safety of their students and each year propose a â€œsafe initiation campaign.â€ The Students Federation of Universidad CatÃ³lica joined organization such as Chileâ€™s World Peace Foundation and the National Youth Institute (INJUV) to promote a nonviolent mechoneo.
INJUVâ€™s president, Marco GuzmÃ¡n, said the rites have positive aspects: they serve as a tool to create bonds and promote communication between the students. But he emphasized that the hazing should be carried out in safe way.
â€œToday, the mechoneo involves a lot of violence–activities like cutting peopleâ€™s hair, throwing paint, or even acid, at their bodies, together with socially denigrating activities like forcing students to beg for money. All of this can have dangerous consequences,â€ he said.
University of Chileâ€™s Medicine School also launches an annual campaign aiming to avoid violent practices among their students and reward more creative activities. The schoolâ€™s students do go on the streets to beg people for money while covered in flour, spices, rotten vegetables, spray paint and worse, but any money earned is later used to finance welcome parties.
Mechoneos are not obligatory, but most students participate because they donâ€™t want to feel left out at the start of their university careers. Because mechoneos happen with practically no control from university authorities and because every university departmentâ€™s students organize their own mechoneo, controlling them is practically impossible.
Hazing has resulted in several injuries in recent years, and heavy alcohol consumption during the process makes students more likely to have accidents. Juan Carlos Varela, a student from the Americas University, suffered acid burns after being attacked by another student last year.
This year the mechoneo started on Monday as novice students from the Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM) headed to Santiagoâ€™s main streets to beg for money. No accidents have yet been reported.