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‘And when we drink with Johnno, he drinks at his own pace’, chant students at Zen Society initiations

A more compassionate approach to society initiations

University societies countrywide have increasingly come under fire for their use of hazing style initiation ceremonies in which hapless novices find themselves pressed into performing ever more hazardous tasks in order to prove their own self-worth. The recent serious injury of twenty 1st year undergraduates at the University of Portsmouth’s Abseiling Society initiations is only the most recent in a litany of peer pressure fuelled crimes.

Amidst this carnage, one light shines bright. The University of Bristol Zen Society has dispensed with the rituals of abuse and humiliation seen in many a university society, encouraging newcomers to wield insight and self-control, instead of a litre of K Cider in one hand, and a parsnip in the other.

Our correspondents caught up with the society during its first social of the academic year – an intense atmosphere of civility and camaraderie prevailed. Head of the ZenSoc, Samantha Trigg, spoke of the effort to avoid “the hierarchical structures and received dogmas prevalent throughout the university society continuum.” Johnno, sipping his tea at a leisurely pace, seemed all too happy to agree: “It’s all very well necking 5 pints of Carling as Dan, Matt and Steven hurl abuse at you, but sometimes I think it’s important that the principles of respect, serenity and mindfulness prevail.”

While clearly a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether Zen Society’s compassionate approach catches on.

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