"On your knees, on a lawn. Usually on the campus. They put a funnel in your mouth, and pour in sangría or vodka until you fall over sick. Most times you have to be dragged back to the dorm." This description comes from a website on hazing. Making a freshman drink abusively without their consent is the example of such student initiation rites most often mentioned by directors of college residences and university administrators. Others include using the freshman's cupped hands, or mouth, as an ashtray; being made to swallow coins, earth, birdseed or dog food; removing clothes, followed by depilation; and cold showers amid wet-towel slaps and jeers.
September is here again, and with it the same atavistic student rituals. The difference this year is that 125 student residences - out of the 160 in Spain, according to the board that groups them together - have joined in saying this has gone too far, promising to fight the practice on and off their premises. "We are deeply concerned," they say in a statement that refers to "serious psychological aftereffects," adding that hazing is an attack on personal freedom and gender equality.
For the last year the residences have been preparing a text, promoted mainly from Madrid, and now being released as the academic year begins, in an attempt to put an end to the "pact of silence" among students about a practice "that often involves unjustifiable situations of mistreatment, harassment and humiliation." It already bears the signatures of some university administrations (Complutense, Pontificia Comillas, Navarre, Zaragoza and San Pablo-CEU), with more expected to sign.
The practice "often involves unjustifiable situations of mistreatment, harassment and humiliation"
For some years now, many campuses have expressly prohibited these practices, and claim they keep a strict watch out for them. Some residences even make students sign a document promising not to take part in hazing when they enroll. However, residences and university administrations note that these actions exceed their scope of control, and request the cooperation of parents and other institutions.
"There are very few reports, because victims are afraid," says the text.
There is no statistical data on hazings in Spain. "Our perception is that they are not any more frequent than they used to be, or any harsher," explains Ricardo Calleja, who until last month was director of the Colegio Mayor Moncloa residence in Madrid. "But we are now becoming more aware of it, and wish to address a very complex problem that is sometimes beyond our control." His center temporarily expelled one student because he had appeared on TV at a rowdy outdoor drinking party.
Anti-hazing association No mas novatadas (No more hazings) began two years ago. Its president, Loreto González, notes that the association has already contacted some politicians, and wants a meeting with the Education Ministry and political parties to prepare a specific law against hazing. "In France, hazing is expressly included in the Penal Code. And here, do we have to wait until something really serious happens?" she asks.