The recommendation from the National Union of Students comes after the BBC obtained footage of an initiation ritual at the University of Gloucestershire. The recording shows students wearing carrier bags on their heads being marched through a residential street by a man wearing a Nazi-style uniform. The students are then forced to drink, causing a number to vomit through the carrier bags, before being made to perform squat-thrusts.
The BBC report has prompted NUS President Wes Streeting to call for all Student Unions to ban initiation ceremonies. In a statement, he remarked that they Â“put students at serious risk and exclude students who donÂ’t want to take part in that binge-drinking cultureÂ”.
SU President Liz Owen told The Founder the StudentsÂ’ Union are Â“proud of the team culture of its sports clubs and societiesÂ” but that they never condone Â“bullying and intimidationÂ”. The President said that whilst SURHUL would not ban initiation ceremonies, there would be stricter management of the events, to be outlined in an Initiation Policy.
The Gloucestershire ceremony, whilst an extreme example, has sparked debate about initiation nights at UK Universities. For the majority of students, the most serious after-effect will be a hangover, but three student deaths have previously been linked to initiation ceremonies. In 2003, a student at Staffordshire University died after choking on his own vomit, and in 2006 the father of another victim, Gavin Britton from Exeter University, blamed the death of his son on the social pressure to drink at an initiation ritual.
The SURHUL Initiation Policy, implemented with immediate effect, means that all clubs and societies must outline the plans for their initiation night to the VPSA and Bars Manager in writing.
President Liz Owen told The Founder the policy would not only apply to initiations held in SU venues, but also those held elsewhere. Inappropriate behaviour, she said, would lead to disciplinary action being taken against the club or society committee and any members involved.
Despite the apparent dangers, students from across the UK were quick to come out in support of initiation ceremonies. One Holloway student said: Â“The majority of nights are fun, social occasions which end up in a bit of a hangover but a bunch of great new friendsÂ”. Nationally, others have remarked that students are in no way forced to participate in these events.
Others disagree, saying that at other universities, if you donÂ’t take part, you are prevented from joining sports clubs and societies. BBC Radio 4 Front Row presenter Mark Lawson wrote in his Guardian column that he perceived Â“a culture of whooping crueltyÂ” developing within Britain. He wrote of his concern that Â“everything is now televisionÂ”, from fights in the Big Brother house to initiation ceremonies and incidents of Â‘happy-slappingÂ’.
Ms Owen summed up the standpoint of SURHUL on the issue: Â“As a StudentsÂ’ Union we promote responsible drinkingÂ…we do not, under any circumstances, condone the bullying and intimidation presented by an overly rowdy initiation ceremony.Â”