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Death and debauchery

14th September 2010

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As uni starts for another year National Student news editor Faye Joice looks at the worrying issue of student initiations - a world of debauchery, drinking and tragic deaths.


Initiations, be it in the form of a ceremony or a series of tasks, have been a long standing tradition for secret societies and organisations throughout the years. University is no exception to this, and societies and sports groups have their annual initiation period over the time of recruiting new Freshers.

NUS is calling for a ban on student initiations, claiming the activities are both dangerous and degrading, and the level of stupidity has gone passed acceptable levels. Last year's NUS President Wes Streeting said: "We are totally opposed to student initiations. They put students at serious risk and exclude students who don't want to take part in that binge-drinking culture."

Recent high-profile incidents at universities have seen a backlash against initiations. One example is that of the University Of Gloucestershire, where last year a video was secretly filmed of students partaking in a strange initiation, walking through the streets with carrier bags over their heads and head whilst drinking and vomiting.

Before parading the streets the group of students were lined up against a wall, whilst an initiator dressed in a Nazi style uniform, ordered them to drink. The university took disciplinary action c against the students who were found to be in charge of that ceremony and other institutions take a similar line.

"We are shocked by the content of this film and take the issue of intimidation and bullying during initiation ceremonies extremely seriously", said a university spokesman following the event.

Students at the University of Gloucestershire provided an insight into the types of activities involved in student initiations.
20-year-old Natalie Sutton explained what she did during a hockey initiation: "I had to go to the toilet in a bucket in a dark basement, which was full of other people's urine. People were crying and vomiting."

Nick Levy, another Gloucestershire student said during his ceremony he was made to drink excessively and then run through the streets of Cheltenham naked.

He added: "We had to put matches in private, inappropriate areas and set them on fire whilst drinking more beer. I did it to be accepted by the older guys at the time.

"It was a bit tormenting, but if you didn't do it you would get called a wuss".

University union representatives agree that peer pressure on students to take part in embarrassing and disgusting rituals is not only dangerous and degrading; it also discourages students who wouldn't lower their moral standards from joining social groups or university sports teams.

In the US, initiations are known as 'hazing' and studies conclude the widespread activity has caused nearly 90 student deaths.
At least three students have died in the UK, causing many universities to ban initiations from their campuses.
In 2006, 18-year-old Gavin Britton died after taking part in a golf initiation ceremony at Exeter University. His father, Ian, later blamed his son's death on social pressure to drink beyond safe limits.

Another student, 18-year-old Alex Doji, died in an initiation ceremony at Staffordshire University after choking on his own vomit in 2003. At the university rugby club initiation ceremony, Alex was made to pick deflated balloons out of a tub of dog food, chilli and offal. Following the tragic events Staffordshire University banned all initiation ceremonies, a move both NUS has supported and other universities may find themselves doing in the future.

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