Initiation rite hell

November 22, 2002

First-years are sleeping more soundly at one of France's elite engineering schools as two months of violent and humiliating initiation rites drew to an end last Sunday, writes Jane Marshall.

The rites, known as bizutage , were banned at schools in 1998. But freshers at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers de Cluny (Cluny Ensam) are still expected to go through the ordeal.

The initiation begins when first-years are woken in the middle of the night for a coercive ceremony. This is followed by early-morning drills, slow marching, singing and drunken rites.

They also have to master the school's idiosyncratic vocabulary.

Students who refuse to participate are ostracised, barred from the students' association and, after graduation, their names italicised in the school directory, identifying them to potential employers.

Ensam management attempts to enforce the ban have met strong resistance from students and the ,000-strong alumni association, which has threatened to withdraw financial support.

Just one bizutage prosecution has taken place, against seven students from the National Engineering School at Brest in 1999.

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