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[Op-Ed] Dangerous Initiations for Freshmen

Posted March. 06, 2009 05:36,   


Several welcoming parties for college freshmen have resulted in tragedy. In a week, two freshmen have died at such parties after falling off buildings (one at a boarding house and the other at a ski resort). They had both opened a window after getting drunk. The day before their deaths, they drank with classmates for around six hours a variety of alcoholic beverages such as soju, beer and Western liquor.

Why do upperclassmen harass freshmen at welcoming parties? Anthropologists say the answer lies in coming-of-age ceremonies held by Tongans in Africa. Tongan boys aged 10 to 16 endure beating, cold weather, hunger and the threat of murder for three months. If they make a small mistake, they are almost beaten to death by older counterparts who just passed the ceremony. According to anthropologists, those who pass through painful rites of passage are more likely to feel attached to the group in question.

In the United States, many freshmen undergo weird ceremonies to gain membership in fraternities, sororities and other groups. Examples include leaving freshmen in their shorts in the woods alone and making them return to school or forcing them to eat the uncooked liver of an animal. College students in New Jersey forced new members to dig holes in the beach, buried them alive in the hole, and got them out just before suffocation. Psychologists say such a tough experience elevates the satisfaction and value felt by students. This is similar to the U.S. Marine Corps, who form a sense of unity after undergoing harsh training.

Regardless of psychological mechanism, risking the lives of students as a form of initiation should never be allowed. American college students have creative ideas to throw exciting welcoming parties for freshmen. In Korea, however, freshmen are simply forced to drink. In the past, certain freshmen were even made to drink rice wine from foul-smelling shoes or beer that others had spit in. More severe cases include the killing of a freshman by upperclassmen who threw him into a lake and the rape of a drunk female student. A new method is needed to welcome freshmen in a healthier way. The goal is to have no more victims.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)