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Initiations: Alcohol, Nudity and Abuse

6th October 2008

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The shocking footage of a sport club initiation at the University of Gloucestershire has provided much needed evidence of the shadowy world of hazing at UK’s universities.

Nazi inititationDespite the fact that these events occur is common knowledge, there is little solid evidence as to the extent of these initiations and what they entail, with many societies and clubs keeping the details of them close to their chest.

One report compiled at the University of Southampton in 2004, provides a good insight into the world of student initiations.

Taking answers from 199 students the findings help highlight the whys and wherefores of this worrying tradition.

Not surprisingly 100% of the respondents said that the consumption of alcohol was a central part of initiation ceremonies. Other aspects included ‘nudity’ (44.5%) and ‘physical activities’ (22%). Worryingly the respondents also highlighted ‘physical abuse’ (22%) and even ‘sexual abuse’ (14%) as being part of their initiation experiences.

The report explains that initiations usually feature one or more categories of ritual.

The first, ‘consumption’, sees initiates often being forced to “consume all manner of unpleasant concoctions” and that “levels of alcohol consumption are usually excessive”.

It also indicates the use of so-called ‘dirty pints’ which either contain a mixture of several alcoholic beverages or other added ingredients ranging from chilli’s and sun tan lotion to vomit and urine.

‘Ritualised Nudity’ is also common, “whether it be running naked through the pub or placing ones genitalia in a beverage, nudity is only amusing to those conducting the ceremony,” says the report. Local residents associations frequently report naked members of sports teams wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning. Indecent exposure is a criminal offence.

‘Task performance’ has always played a key role in initiations and is extremely common. “Whether it is swimming naked in the fish pond, stealing an item of clothing from an opposition team or drinking a pint of vomit, task performance has always played a key role in initiation ceremonies,” explains the report. Task performance highlights just how far an individual is prepared to go for the team; although participation in these events is not a real consent to willingness as the social repercussions of failing to participate will lead to social exclusion at a time when initiates are striving for group acceptance.

This kind of activity is said by the report to create as many divisions as it does unity with the team structure.

Probably the most worrying is the common-occurrence of ‘Physical and Psychological abuse’. The report states that, “Those conducting the ceremonies often resort to verbal or physical abuse in order to humiliate an initiate in order to ensure the recognition of the hierarchal structure. Psychological abuse can leave as many scars as purely physical violence and often these actions are borne out of a need for revenge for humiliations which those conducting the ceremony experienced. Physical violence often involves beatings with items such as hockey sticks, cricket bats or studded boots, all of which leave physical as well as psychological damage on initiates.”

Those who defend the initiation ceremonies say that they are important to help build team relationships and trust, those who answered the questionnaire seem to have a different opinion with 89% stating that they are simply to ‘humiliate freshers’. Just 17.6% believed that they ‘promote team building’ and a mere 10% thought it ensured ‘commitment to the team’.

Of the 74% of student respondents who had been part of an initiation ceremony 80.5% were given no choice of whether to partake or not and 61% were pressurised by their peers to join-in.

Despite evidence and seemingly common-knowledge of the extreme humiliation of these events, this does not put students off joining sports clubs where they know an initiation would take place. 92.5% said they were not put off joining because of fear of initiations and the conduct of members.

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