Renowned for diverse and unsavoury antics, initiations have long been a celebrated part of university life. An opportunity to embarrass yourself without committing social suicide and an ideal time to consolidate friendships and truly become part of whatever team, club or society you’ve chosen to join. But is this really the case? Are initiations any more than the scheming ‘old boys’ remorselessly establishing a hierarchy based on humiliation and degradation?
Nottingham’s initiations policy has recently been under review with the Student’s Union concerned that the line between wanting to, and feeling obligated to participate, is becoming blurred. It isn’t surprising that many people find the concept of initiations a little intimidating. The common perception is that failure to partake will preclude your being a respected member of your club/society. Although theoretically it is possible to be part of the team without being a member of the clique, a strong character is requited to actually feel comfortable doing this.
Numerous complaints were received in connection with the rugby boy’s naked campus run, leading the Student’s Union to ban ‘events where members are expected to perform to gain credibility or status within the group, involving forcing or requiring an individual to consume alcohol or engage in nudity.’
This resolution will certainly be well received by BUSA (British University Sporting Association) and the coordinators of their recent campaign to ‘ensure that some of the more extrovert aspects of student behaviour are removed from the sporting arena’. It will also be welcomed by those who relate the relationship between initiator and initiatee, to that of abuser and victim. Their position reflects the increasingly extreme activities being undertaken within initiation rituals.
However, it is a motion that some in the Athletic Union are unhappy with. Participants often embrace activities regarded as unacceptable by some and Initiations are considered by those who run them to be vital for bringing freshers into the fold. As the older members focus on the newer ones, foundations for later relationships are made. Nonetheless this year has already seen alterations to the initiation ceremonies, with more emphasis being put on voluntary activities, on team games rather than individual performances and reduced focus on alcohol consumption. All of which are taking initiations in a more encouraging direction. Emily Picken, Social secretary for Women’s Rugby maintains, “Initiations are an integral part of any team set up, enjoyed by all. All our tasks were performed by a joint team of ‘old girls’ and freshers, which meant everyone was included even if they didn’t drink or wish to make fools of themselves. An excellent team spirit was developed which will last for the whole season”.
It is clear that initiation ceremonies are an established part of uniting team members, and will most likely continue whatever restrictions the Students Union put in place. As long as clubs are aware of the boundary between what constitutes a good laugh and what is essentially bullying, this tradition should be able to go ahead without causing harm to any of its members.