Page last updated at 05:01 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 06:01 UK

Initiations: Why I took part in one

By Natalie Sutton
BBC News

Natalie Sutton and friends
During my initiation ceremony we were told to dress up as pirates

For thousands of young people starting their first term at college, the news that the University of Gloucestershire is investigating student initiation ceremonies might be the first time they learn of these secretive and potentially dangerous practices.

I was "initiated" when I applied to join my university's women's hockey team. I found the ceremony, with its emphasis on stomach-turning food and heavy drinking, frightening and degrading.

But I still went through with it. Why?

I've now discovered that, despite the risks, most of the students I have spoken to remain supporters of initiations - even though the hard-drinking ceremonies have been thought to be a factor in the deaths of at least three British students.

Bizarre and risky

To the outsider, initiations - which usually take place as part of acceptance into a university sports team - appear bizarre and risky affairs.

Typically, new recruits are instructed to follow the instructions, however extreme, of senior team members. The novices are sworn to secrecy and forbidden from revealing to non-team members any ceremony details.

After a lot of vomiting, we were taken upstairs to a car park and pelted with flour, washing-up liquid and eggs, before being led to our final destination, a local nightclub

At my initiation I was told to dress as a pirate and then summoned to a student house to meet my fellow novices.

There we were told to prepare "bucket juice" - an intoxicating mixture of beer, spirits, alcopops and wine.

We were given Oxo cubes to suck as we were paraded, singing and chanting, around the neighbourhood.

We ended up in a dark basement where raw fish was stuffed down our bras and we were told to eat a nausea-inducing mixture of cat food, eggs and breakfast cereal topped with Bovril, washed down with copious amounts of "bucket juice".

After a lot of vomiting, we were taken upstairs to a car park and pelted with flour, washing-up liquid and eggs, before being led to our final destination, a local nightclub.

Our last challenge was to eat the fish out of our bras. It's also the last thing I remember, owing to the sheer amount of alcohol I had consumed.

What disturbs me most is that although I found the whole experience degrading and disturbing, at no time did I attempt to leave.

Why did I go though with it?

Physical abuse

The answer might be found in a 2004 student survey conducted by Mike Tinmouth, then a student officer at the University of Southampton.

The research found that just under a quarter of students surveyed had taken part in a initiation - despite a university ban on the practice.

Students describe their initiation experiences

All the ceremonies involved alcohol consumption; just under half involved nudity; and a fifth featured "physical abuse" as part of the initiation rite.

Importantly, the report identified overwhelming support for initiations among the students who had taken part in them.

It suggested that the ceremonies were popular because they instilled "humility" in new team members, and thus helped team building.

As far as initiation "victims" are concerned, the report suggested that they willingly took part in the ceremony because it helped fulfil a "psychological need" to belong to a group.

'Hazing'

But what isn't generally known is just how dangerous those rituals can be.

One initiation victim was 18-year-old Alex Doji of Staffordshire University, who choked to death on his own vomit in 2003
In the US where "hazing" - as initiations are known - is widespread, one study concludes that the practice has caused an estimated 89 student deaths.

And in Britain, at least three students have died - prompting many universities to ban initiations from their campuses.

One initiation victim was 18-year-old Alex Doji of Staffordshire University, who choked to death on his own vomit in 2003.

At a university rugby club initiation ceremony, Alex was made to pick deflated balloons out of a tub of dog food, chilli and offal.

The university banned initiation ceremonies after the incident - a move supported by the National Union of Students (NUS).

'Reckless ceremonies'

An NUS spokesman said: "We take this issue extremely seriously and strongly encourage all students' unions to ban these dangerous and reckless ceremonies.

Initiations shouldn't be banned, because they help build team spirit, relationships and teamwork
Chris Baker, ex-student
"It is unfortunate that some private establishments continue to tolerate these dangerous activities on their premises."

But other students say the positive aspects of initiation ceremonies outweigh the risks involved.

Chris Baker, a graduate from University of Wales Institute in Cardiff (UWIC), said: "Initiations shouldn't be banned because they help build team spirit, relationships and teamwork between freshers (first-year students), and second and third-year students.

"They also give the freshers a sense of being part of a tradition."

Student Fraser Hasell, whose friend Gavin Britton died in 2006 after attending a golf initiation ceremony at Exeter University, believes initiations should be allowed - but with safeguards.

He said: "It's my opinion that Gavin died on that night because there was nobody to get him help.

"Everybody was too drunk to be responsible for anyone else. I would suggest that ensuring that there are responsible people would negate the extra risk."




SEE ALSO
Campus death student named
02 Nov 03 |  Staffordshire
Campus death inquest opened
07 Nov 03 |  Staffordshire

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific