Initiation rights banned in wake of ritual abuse

March 2, 2007

One outspoken victim of football 'hazing' has prompted a Canadian institution to ban the practice, writes Philip Fine

A Canadian university that cancelled a season of gridiron football after one of its players spoke out against a humiliating initiation incident has officially banned the practice of hazing and has come out with a long list of banned practices.

In 2005, McGill University made national headlines after it was revealed that new recruits to its football team had been subjected to degrading acts as part of a team initiation.

One McGill Redmen rookie took his concerns to senior administration and to the media, alleging that he and some of his team mates were ridiculed and forced into mock sexual acts. In one incident described by the student, he said he was stripped down and poked in the anus with a broom pole.

The university reacted by suspending the players involved and forcing the team, which plays other Canadian university football teams, to cancel its 2005-06 season.

The board of governors passed a vote making hazing an officially banned practice at McGill. The policy, which is likely to be included in this coming year's student handbook, has an appendix that lists activities that the university will not tolerate.

Among the more extreme examples on the list are spanking, whipping, simulated or real sexual acts, degradation, tattooing and appearing nude in private or public places.

Morton Mendelson, McGill's provost, admits that hazing is can be hard to define and could fall under what his psychologist colleagues refer to as "fuzzy sets".

So, while more tame activities, such as callisthenics and swearing, are in the appendix, Professor Mendelson said that draconian reactions would not prevail.

"Football players doing callisthenics together to warm up is different from a new recruit having someone scream, 'Germ, get on the floor and give me 20 push-ups!'"

McGill is promoting "positive alternatives" for welcoming new members to groups and encouraging participation.

It urges groups to get in touch with services such as the Leadership Development Programme and the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office before planning welcoming activities.

The player who brought the story to light, D'Arcy McKeown, now a University of Toronto student, is satisfied with McGill's move.

He said he hoped that other universities would consider introducing similar policies. "I am happy with anything that assures that no one else will have to go through what the other rookies and I went through."

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