20 Feb 2024

Dunedin flat initiations: From daft to dangerous

From Nights, 10:18 pm on 20 February 2024
A party on Castle Street, Dunedin, about 8am on Sunday 1 November 2015.

Dunedin's Castle Street is home to many of the more infamous, highly sought-after named flats of the student precinct. Photo: Twitter / @doryrempsey

Initiation activities to get into student flats are getting more elaborate and intense every year, with one former student journalist saying it's only a matter of time until somebody gets seriously hurt.

Across the country this week, New Zealand's student population will be returning to study and moving into their new flats. But some of them have to earn these flats - and that's more than just paying the bond.

Initiations range from being pelted with eggs, given creative buzzcuts, and being made to vomit on each other, in a Dunedin tradition dating back decades.

But the Otago Daily Times reported in October that  two women were forced to strip to their underwear and called "piggies" during an initiation, while reports have surfaced of students mistreating ducks and a live eel.

Fox Meyer, former editor of Otago University student magazine Critic Te Ārohi, has been studying the hazing issue and told RNZ Nights that many who went through the process saw it as a way to bond through adversity, but there "are better ways to do that".

He said every year the initiations got a little bit worse as they tried to top the previous year,

"I think we should address it before someone gets really hurt."

He said the whole practice was not an isolated thing, but part of the national psyche around drinking that needed to be addressed.

"If you want to do crazy, gross stuff with your friends, do it, but don't make them do it to be your friend. That's not setting you up for success."

He said it would be "monumental" to ask a young adult to stand up to that kind of thing on their own and risk social ostracisation, and there was the idea that if you went through this harrowing thing, and then stopped the tradition, "it's like you did it for nothing".

Meyer said most of the initiations were "group based activities squeezed into a couple of hours of heavy drinking", and vomit was "pretty ubiquitous".

He said some of the hazing happened behind closed doors, but by and large, it's made to be a spectacle.

"The degradation aspect is really integral to understanding the whole phenomenon. Because understandably it's fun to talk about, it's a pretty interesting topic."

He said initiations had been happening for a while, but the setting is different. Meyer said it started at many halls of residence, but this was largely pushed out in the 1980s, and is now something more likely to be found in second-year flats.

He said it was bad when it was in halls, but at least theoretically there was someone accountable. 

"And now that is completely out the window."