The University of Manchester (UoM) is to strengthen its approach to dealing with freshers’ initiation ceremonies.
The practice is already banned but British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) – the governing body for university sport – says the rituals are becoming more extreme.
BUCS and Universities UK (UUK) are introducing fresh measures to help raise awareness of the dangers and make it easier for students to report their concerns. UoM says the steps will help it uphold its, “strict ‘no tolerance’ approach to initiations.”
Initiation ceremonies have been under scrutiny following the death of Newcastle University student Ed Farmer in 2016 after an agricultural society bar crawl. His father has since campaigned for bans on initiation ceremonies to be enforced more stringently.
Distinguishing between a banned initiation ceremony and a welcome social can be difficult, and enforcing the ban even harder, particularly when some students don’t see the practice in such a negative light.
“I believe being initiated into a club helps you feel part of the team if they’re done right, it’s usually just a fun night out with some challenges and games,” the social secretary of a large sports society at UoM told The Mancunion.
“The focus of my [freshers’] initiation was the costume. [We] had to dress for a specific theme, and the more creative and embarrassing your costume was the better. There were some drinking challenges and I remember being covered in baby powder at some point. It was a really good bonding moment between the freshers’ as at that point we didn’t know each other very well. I definitely don’t remember being forced to do anything I didn’t want to do.”
She added there were alternative options for freshers’ who don’t drink, but acknowledged that the ceremonies can be problematic.
“I think it’s really sad that some people are deciding not to join societies in fear of initiations. I think sometimes they can be taken too far, especially if the people on the committee let the power go to their heads. If any point a fresher is too scared or intimidated to say no or to walk away then I believe it has been taken too far.”
UoM guidelines dictate that activities must not be “humiliating, unlawful or degrading”, involve “forced consumption of any fluid/substance”, and that participation must have no bearing on acceptance onto a team/squad, or any subsequent selection.
The initiations policy also states that “social activities such as welcome evenings, team meals, social nights, trips away and celebration events that welcome new members and a positive first impression of university life are encouraged.”
From December students will be able to submit their concerns anonymously over the BUCS website, with universities risking exclusion from BUCS competitions if they fail to respond appropriately.
Speaking to The Observer, Mr Mayne said: “We’ve often received complaints but our response has previously been, ‘it’s not our problem: contact your institution’. I can fully understand why students might not want to report it internally. They may worry about reprisals, or about not being selected if they speak out, but they can report it to us and we can raise it with their institution on their behalf.”
When asked about how UoM plans to manage the difficulties in regulating initiation ceremonies, a University spokesperson said: “We are aware of the actions being taken by BUCS and UUK … we have been working to integrate the AU Code of Conduct into wider university disciplinary processes.
“In addition, our Sport Sabbatical Officer is having meetings with club captains and social secretaries to ensure they understand what is expected of them, and the penalties for not complying. The Athletic Union (AU) and UoM Sport should be fully inclusive to all, and we will continue to work with staff and students to achieve this.”