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Hazing in Chile

abstract:

CHILE’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 “welcomed” by those in the second year. This hazing practice, known as “mechoneo,” has been a common practice in Chile’s traditional universities for 40 years, and private universities have recently adopted it as well.

Students from University of Chile’s schools of Engineering and Law also participate in what has been called the “battle for the bridge.” New students engage a food fight in the middle of Santiago’s Pio Nono Bridge, which divides the two schools. The students throw rotten vegetables and fruit at each other while wielding their school’s banners.

Many universities worry about the safety of their students and each year propose a “safe initiation campaign.” The Students Federation of Universidad Católica joined organization such as Chile’s World Peace Foundation and the National Youth Institute (INJUV) to promote a nonviolent mechoneo.

INJUV’s president, Marco Guzmán, 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.

“Today, the mechoneo involves a lot of violence–activities like cutting people’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,” he said.

University of Chile’s Medicine School also launches an annual campaign aiming to avoid violent practices among their students and reward more creative activities. The school’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 don’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 department’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 Santiago’s main streets to beg for money. No accidents have yet been reported.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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