Semester start — You probably know the hullabaloo: Every year, just around the start of the academic year, the traditional intro camps for freshmen are up for debate. There is too much drinking. Then it’s all about sex. Then the themes are inappropriate. But it is actually a new phenomenon that society outside the university holds an opinion at all about what happens among students.
From the foundation of university in 1479 and the next 200-300 years, the new students had to turn up in the university courtyard in the inner city with a horn on their forehead, a hump on their back, with blackened faces, anything that would make them look like brutes. They represented the uneducated and boorish.
Then they were brought into a room, examined by an older student, insulted and thrashed (they were, actually, beaten up). The students were whipped with a cane and pinched with a tong so their horns fell off. The pleasure of participating even cost the young freshmen four shillings if they were poor, and eight if they were rich.
One of the purposes of the old initiation rites was that the new students could win the others’ respect by enduring the torments. In a university statute from 1539 it is stated that it is useful for students to go through such rituals, because they all need to get used to the fact that life as an academic will lead to mockery and ridicule from the surrounding community.
The Danish university initiations took place within a closed academic setting, and if things went too far, it would lead to internal disciplinary proceedings and perhaps even a spell in the university prison – but not, like today, featured comments from distraught parents in the daily press.
At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the initiation of the new students moved away from the university’s central yard and out of the history books, and now they took place around the city and in the dormitories.
Right up to the 1960s and 1970s, however, the Danish university was a closed system, and the surrounding community was not alarmed by went on in academia. In the wake of the 60-70’s student protests, the university became more democratic, and the ideology of equality came into the study programmes.
Which brings us to the present when the media, every September, report on the start of the academic year with greater or lesser consternation. In 1993 the daily newspaper Politiken had a number of stories about how students of engineering made bombs in the different Copenhagen residence halls, and several of them said that they had learned it all on an intro camp for freshmen. In 1998, critics said that the entire intro camp was a drinking spree, and in 2001, several camp venues refused to lease them to the thirsty young students.
»We’d rather go bankrupt than say yes to having them again,« said a landlord from Samsø.
Female students at CBS had to simulate oral sex on male students who juggled a banana between their legs.
It was also in 2001 that the newspaper Politiken wrote about fresher camps at the Roskilde University, where »insanely drunk freshmen« the previous year had organized communal shaving of genitals, and a student reportedly had had sexual intercourse with the head of a pig.
In 2004, the Centre for Rape Victims warned against games involving nudity with sexual undertones, because they had received enquiries from women who had felt harassed on Danish fresher camps. And in 2007, the University of Copenhagen decided that there was to be no more drinking the alcoholic ‘Gammel Dansk’ beverage at breakfasts on intro trips – now the camps had to comply with the university’s drinking and smoking policies.
Drinking and sexual excesses were the overall theme of the media’s intro camp coverage in the 00s, but this did not seem to change what happened at the camps. A communications student certainly told the daily newspaper Berlingske in 2009 how they on an intro camp played games with a strap-on dildo and had drunk heavily.
In 2014, the debate over intro camps trips exploded after it emerged on the student podcast MONO, and subsequently in The University Post, that students at a Political Science intro camp had been made to play sexist games where they were divided into boys’ and girls’ groups. The male students were told to recount their sexual fantasies about the female students, caress the lips on a sheep’s head, and put pork in their underwear to strengthen their libido.
The following year, Djøf-bladet magazine could reveal that female students at CBS at one of the year’s fresher camps were made to simulate oral sex on male students who had juggled a banana between their legs. During a gender-segregated warm-up to celebrations the male students had to – as an echo of the 2014 scandal from political science – call the female students sluts and state who they would like to have sex with.
The following year, CBS was once again the subject of media attention, when Berlingske described how students had complained that they had to suck wine out of a tampon, make chains of their clothes, and recount private details about their sex life at intro camp.
According to a reliable source, some social science University of Copenhagen departments have been banned from all the camp venues on Zealand.
And in 2018, there was the debate on the theme parties on the University of Copenhagen law programme. It was a featured comment on the daily newspaper Politiken that set off the debate – here, a student recounted how she on an intro camp had to eat a pack of yeast, suck whisky out of a smelly sock, and lick curried herring off one of her fellow students.
Will 2019 be free of all this?
Sources: Morten Fink-Jensen, university historian, University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute, newspaper articles from Infomedia.