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The controversial Danish 'rustur'

Introduction camps for new students in countryside getaways are feared by some and cherished by others. They are always remembered

The semester begins for most students around the 1st of September, but the campuses of the University of Copenhagen are already filling up with hopeful new students.

The freshers or ‘russer’ as they are called are beginning introduction weeks with everything that it entails, from campus tours to binge drinking. An integral part of introduction for first year students is the so called ‘rustur’ [pronounced: Rooss-Tour] and its many traditions that have created a stir in recent years because of claims of heavy drinking, sexism and hazing in the different rituals involved.

But what is a ‘rustur’ and why has it taken up so much place in the media around this time in recent years?

Ties students together

According to the Danish dictionary ordbogen.dk ‘Rus’ or ‘russer’ is the name given to new students. The origin of the term is unclear. It likely derives from the latin ‘depositurus’, the meaning behind the term hence being to leave behind, or deposit the bad manners of the uneducated masses. ‘Tur’ simply means trip and accordingly ‘rustur’ is a trip for the new students, commonly to a venue, a guest house maybe, in the countryside somewhere.

However according to student and member of the contact group for the 128 student organising team for the introduction at the political science faculty, Mathias Hamburger Holm, it is so much more than that.

“I believe that a rustur is very important for the new students because it ties them closer to their fellow students. It’s an event that they all have in common, and can remember and talk about for many years to come,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Hamburger Holm

Controversies

Student organisers generally speak highly of the ‘rustur’, but university departments have in recent years, put restrictions on the trips. The physics department even got rid of the concept as an integrated part of introduction weeks in 2012 (it was later re-instated).

The spirit of the rustur is all about socialising with new fellow students and getting to know the department and programme.

But each year brings new revelations of controversial practices. Last year a ‘russer’ revealed how he had been encouraged to stuff deli meats into his underwear supposedly to increase his libido and encouraged to publicly announce, which girls he would like to have sex with and what position he would like to do it in.

‘No sexual content’

These rituals have a taint of the the hazing rituals of American fraternities, but Mathias Hamburger Holm assures us that the rituals with pigs and sexual content have been completely taken out of the rustur.

Mathias says that he and the rest of the organising group spend a lot of time and effort ensuring that no students are pushed beyond their limits. “In fact we have no sexual content at all,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Hamburger Holm

Getting to know one another without drinks

According to Mathias being away from the comfort of your home, offers the new batch of students the chance to bond and creates a sense of unity across the student body.

Through a range of games and activities, the students are encouraged to get to know each other in a different way than how they would at home.

Confronted with the criticism of binge drinking Mathias replies.

“It’s very important for us that the rustur is not all about drinking, therefore we have a 5 o’clock rule, which means that no one is allowed to drink alcohol before 5 PM. This way we make sure that the new students get to know each other without a drink in their hand.”

Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Hamburger Holm

Rustur in other countries

Different countries have different practices in regard to ceremonies, rituals and practices to introduce new students. As far as we know, the Danish ‘rustur’ is unique.

Natasha Natarajan, is a recent graduate of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

They had nothing of the sort at her university: “All we had was a fair, where the institution’s societies were represented and a few parties we had to pay for ourselves,” she says.

In America a similar concept exists as part of the initiation process for fraternities.

Rahul Sharma a recent graduate from the College of Idaho recalls how he lived in the fraternity house for a full week along with the other ‘brothers’ as part of the process.

There was no drinking, drugs or sex, just pure bonding.

Bonding might just be what is at the heart of the rusturs. Which is why the physics department in recognition of this has actually reinstated the rustur.

Not being yourself

In a featured comment for the University Post, rhetoric student Camlla Lærke Lærkesen describes her fears and anxieties before going to the university ‘rustur’, and intro days.

“It seems to me that there is a very specific way of bonding when you start up in a new place. It most likely involves games. It often involves beer. And it always involves a lot of not being yourself,” she said, before going on to recommend going anyway,” she writes.

For another student, Karen Fowler Lund, soon to be enrolled in the law programme at UCPH, going on the rustur isn’t yet certain.

Social investment

“I don’t necessarily enjoy binge drinking and variations of drinking games,” she says.

But she is still leaning towards going. She views the bonding that takes place on these trips valuable and a good social investment, which will benefit her in the group work that inevitably will be a part of her course.

So stained reputation or not, the rustur will prevail.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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