In Defence of Initiation Ceremonies

Initiation ceremonies at university seem to be universally hated. They shouldn’t be.

Straight off the bat, I’d like to make one thing clear – initiation ceremonies, also know as hazing, can be really, really bad. It doesn’t take too long on Google to find stories of student initiations gone sickeningly wrong, where the students are unequivocally to blame and statistically, these sort of stories and the number of injuries from the practice in general have risen over the past few years, leading to universities and student unions across the country taking action.

A report by the University of Southampton and multiple reports from various media outlets show that, since 2013, there has been an increase in the number of people that ended their initiation ceremonies in hospital, as well as in the amount of people refusing to sign up for various sporting societies because of hazing. The problem therefore seems to be a double-edged sword. So, despite the worrying statistics and the massive backlash from concerned parents (and other middle-aged people who deem themselves well placed to grasp what really goes on), KCLSU hasn’t banned initiation ceremonies. Here is why this is a good thing.

There are two types of initiation ceremonies- the good and the bad.

And as always, it’s the bad ones that make all the noise. It would be far too stereotypical for me to say that it’s nearly always the university rugby society (not ours though, them and their roman togas were a fantastic scene at The Vault) who happen to grossly neglect the wellbeing of their members in favour of some over-the-top drinking culture, but statistically, rugby is by far and large the sport most freshers’ avoid because of the initiation ceremonies.

A bad hazing isn’t necessarily one gone wrong. It’s one where everyone involved, especially the senior members organising it, are at fault for forgetting the point of a hazing. It’s not necessarily neglecting the wellbeing of a teammate to the point where they end up in the hospital, it’s just neglecting their wellbeing full stop. Not giving freshers any opt-out choice at any point, forcing under-aged freshers to drink and consume things for the sake of negative health effects is obviously dumb. To think that the more senior members organising this are in their second or third year, or even postgraduate students (you’re meant to be smart) makes it all the more ridiculous.

However, that doesn’t mean they should ruin the fun for everyone else. I had my initiation for one of the sports societies last week and I don’t regret any of it, because it was done properly. First of all, someone checked that we were all of age, had ID and whether anyone was not going to drink because of health or religious reasons (because that was so hard). Secondly, they really demonstrated that the line between putting freshers out of their comfort zones and openly trying to comatose them wasn’t really that fine. Would I have slid through the mud to take a shot of gin or drank a cup of raw egg on my own accord? Absolutely not. Do I regret it? Even less so. I may have ended up falling down some steps at one point but that was my own fault and the senior guys actually helped me and looked out for me better than I was drunkenly looking out for myself.

But, most importantly, it felt like a hazing for all the good reasons. I consumed a lot of alcohol (but not a health-threatening amount), I had some very good laughs, I did some weird stuff, and at the end of it all I felt a lot closer to and comfortable with my new teammates. Guys who I’d heretofore not really spoken with I ended up sharing the most laughs with, guys I saw were shy were an absolute blast and guys I’d only known in a sporting context I had proper conversations with. The point of a hazing is getting closer to your teammates, and that’s what a good one is for.

The best thing is, I know this wasn’t just my society because on the same night, from what I recall, at least four other societies were holding initiations and everyone was having an absolute blast. The main thing I learnt is that everything I had pictured an initiation to be just wasn’t the case – it could be weird and testing without being genuinely scary. I may have thrown up (repeatedly) but I don’t regret a single second of it because I now want to show up to practice every week more than ever. So, let’s openly fight the stupidity of humiliation- and risk-based nature of old-school rugby culture initiations, but let’s do it without ruining the fun for everyone else, because that’ll just take something special away from the uni experience.

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