KU Leuven tightens rules on student ‘baptisms’ following death


Initiation ceremonies in Flanders have long been a source of contention, and last week’s incident is leading to a crackdown

Students under investigation

KU Leuven university has called on all student clubs to cease initiation ceremonies until further notice and commit to a strict code of conduct, following the death of a student last week. Students who participate in similar “humiliating and dangerous activities” risk being disciplined, the university said on Tuesday.

Initiation ceremonies or “baptisms” are a tradition in Belgian student life and often involve challenges and tests. Last week a 20-year-old student at KU Leuven fell into a coma and later died after being obliged to drink a large quantity of fish oil as part of a “baptism” held by the Reuzegom club. Two other students were hospitalised following the ceremony.

Together with the police, KU Leuven has begun an investigation, questioning the students involved in the club, with a view to taking disciplinary action. “The loss of one of our students has touched me deeply, both as university rector and as a father,” said Luc Sels, announcing new measures to control initiation ceremonies. “I want to make it very clear that, for me, activities such as those carried out by Reuzegom are miles away from university and student life.”

‘Not up for negotiation’

KU Leuven’s regulations insist that individual students should respect others, both in their conduct and social relations. This principle is also expressed in a charter for student clubs, which covers initiation ceremonies.

This charter has now been tightened up, in the light of last week’s events. Ceremonies may no longer involve alcohol or drugs, nor the involuntary intoxication of students. There are also new rules for the use of food and drinks. And there are restrictions on the use of public space.

While this new charter is expected to be adopted as a matter of course by clubs recognised by KU Leuven, there are some 15 informal clubs that have always refused to sign the charter. Like the Reuzegom club, these often include students from more than one university and lie outside the control of a single institution.

Sels insists that they must now conform. “Essentially, it’s all about common sense and basic safety, and that is not up for negotiation.”

Photo: During an initiation, students often cover new students with food and make them eat and drink large quantities