Last month a coroner ruled a Newcastle University student died after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on an initiation-style bar crawl. Ed Farmer was on a night out with the Agricultural Society two years ago.
This prompted me to consider the culture of university sports initiations.
When asking friends for tales of their own initiation experiences, I was horrified by some of their anecdotes. Stories ranged from being made to vomit, defecate and urinate on a tarpaulin mat and then roll around on it, to apple bobbing with dead rats.
Not only are these activities incredibly unsanitary and could lead to serious illnesses, they are humiliating, degrading and outright cruel.
There seems to be an overriding attitude of, ‘I had to go through it, so they have to too’, amongst second and third years.
This is masked with an excuse that being forced to eat pigs trotters or down a bottle of port is in some way ‘character building’. This revenge attitude is, I believe, extremely unhealthy and leads to a vicious cycle of cruelty. Surely, such situations would cause you to feel sympathy for freshers, not wanting anyone to suffer the same humiliation that you had to go through?
Unfortunately, these initiations deter a great number of people from joining sports teams. Captains may say that it’s just a bit of fun and, yes, maybe there is nothing wrong with making people eat raw onions or with cracking eggs on freshers’ heads. I might even say that that is pretty amusing. But there comes a point where you have to admit that the fun stops.
The mere fact that initiations are banned by universities and have to be done in secret with ridiculous code names like ‘Extraordinary General Meeting’ should be a red flag.
It’s not just the disgusting activities, I also have a problem with forcing people to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. My own drinking habits have in the past led to people labelling me ‘boring’. It is not because I don’t want to have fun – I’d just like to drink on my own terms so that I don’t end the night crying into a bowl of sick. Sports teams controlling how much you drink is incredibly unfair especially given that everyone has varying tolerances.
Admittedly, a number of the people I spoke to regarding initiations have said that this year, sports captains have been a lot nicer to their freshers, not forcing them to do anything they absolutely don’t want to. Whether or not this is as a direct consequence of what happened to Ed Farmer I couldn’t say. If so, however, it should not have taken a death for people to change their attitudes towards initiations.
Attitudes need to change, and people need to realise that what they are doing isn’t just a bit of fun. Let us hope that the tragedy that has recently taken place opens people’s eyes and makes them enter into the true spirit of university – that of inclusion and fun, not an environment of fear.