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Newcastle University and the Council react to initiation dangers

Written by News

Following the tragic death of Newcastle Student Ed Farmer in 2016 from the “toxic effects” of excessive alcohol consumption at an Agricultural Society initiation, Newcastle Council and the University are continuing attempts to minimise the chances of a similar incident.

The inquest last year revealed how the 20-year-old student was “egged on” to drink vodka trebles by older students, ultimately going into cardiac arrest and suffering a fatal brain injury. The coroner, Karen Dilks, ended the inquest by calling for new action and awareness raising measures.

At Newcastle University, extra focus was given in this year’s freshers week to initiation practices.

Induction lectures for courses included slides warning 2nd and 3rd year students about prohibited behaviour, which included forcing others to consume drink or substances. Punishments for such behaviour included a caution, written warnings, disciplinary suspension, deferred expulsion from the University, and expulsion with immediate effect.

Similarly, for society inductions, there was a greater emphasis on anti-initiation training for society officer roles. Their training too focused on dangerous initiation practices and the prohibition of ‘forced’ behaviour.

NUSU defines forced behaviour as any instance when an individual feels pressurised or believes that they ‘must’ participate in order to be accepted into a particular group.

NUSU defines forced behaviour as any instance when an individual feels pressurised or believes that they ‘must’ participate in order to be accepted into a particular group.

The disciplinary action for societies who do not adhere, was also explained. Those taking part in planning, encouraging or failing to intervene in such events could risk expulsion from the University, removal from a committee position or society membership, de-ratification of a society and removal from any competitions.

A new University report and support system has been introduced to allow students to report this, anonymously if they prefer.

President of the Newcastle University Fashion Society, Sophie Walker, said “I find it extremely important for NUSU to educate societies about initiations and to act if societies do partake in initiations. The emphasis in officer training really drilled into executive committee’s the dangers of initiations beyond what some may see as harmless fun.”

The focus comes as a new report from Universities UK in collaboration with Newcastle University, titled ‘Initiations at UK universities’, recommended universities move away from the zero-tolerance approach towards initiations.

The report, whose launch coincided with the start of Freshers’ Week, said “Not all events labelled as initiations are inherently bad: it is the inappropriate and/or dangerous behaviours that are sometimes involved that make them risky. A blanket zero tolerance approach can push activities into private spaces, such as off-campus accommodation, and so making them more dangerous.

“A purely zero-tolerance, punitive approach is ineffective, and can lead institutions to do very little to tackle the issue since, because initiations are banned, there is an assumption that they are not taking place.

“Institutions should review their protocols for dealing with such activities and clarify with students and staff the sanctions that apply for disregarding these.”

Eleanor Killner, Activities Officer at NUSU, and Joe Gibbons, the Athletics Union Officer, commented: “The death of Ed Farmer was a tragic and devastating incident that still affects us all here at the University and it was clear we needed to make a positive change.

“This year we have worked very hard to move away from the term initiations, towards the culture surrounding dangerous behaviours within clubs and societies. It’s not just one-off events we should be focusing on, it is the culture surrounding coercive and non-inclusive behaviour.”

Eleanor Killner and Joe Gibbons

“This year we have worked very hard to move away from the term initiations, towards the culture surrounding dangerous behaviours within clubs and societies. It’s not just one-off events we should be focusing on, it is the culture surrounding coercive and non-inclusive behaviour.

“The Student Union had a massive influence on the content of the Universities UK recent report. We want every student to think of clubs and societies as the highlight of their time at university and we’re proud that this year’s committee members can lead the way in changing the negative reputation around socials and events throughout the year.”

This comes as Newcastle Council bosses pledged in July that there will be a crackdown on the city’s bars and clubs. As well as new training for event promoters, their plans also included frequent inspections of late-night drinking venues.

A report on the topic went before Safe Newcastle members in August. The city’s old ‘raising the bar’ scheme in which bars were rewarded for good practice, was found to be “not always effectively implemented” and became “undermined” by police and council interventions.

The report instead explained that under a new charter, the Newcastle City Council inspectors would grade bars according to factors such as their compliance with the conditions of their alcohol licences and confidence in the venues management.

Last modified: 14th October 2019

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