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Initiations advice

As students return to university and freshers start their courses, Universities UK has released a briefing on what universities should do to prevent and respond to the often dangerous behaviours that arise from initiations events. It’s a response to the death of Newcastle University student Ed Farmer who died after an initiation event. At the inquest in October 2018, the coroner concluded there was a risk of future deaths occurring because students were “unaware of the risks of consuming large quantities of alcohol” in a short time.

In response to the coroner’s findings, and supported by Ed’s parents, Jeremy and Helen Farmer, a national working group was set up by UUK chaired by Newcastle University’s Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Chris Day. Recommendations include:

Adopt a clear definition of what constitutes an initiation which focuses on prohibited behaviours

Foster cross-working and a whole university approach. This means including work to prevent initiations as part of strategies to tackle harassment and promote good wellbeing and mental health

Evaluate new initiatives and share knowledge and good practice, continuously assessing progress being made

Update or develop policies and practices to explicitly refer to initiation events and the problems that arise from them

Ensure proportionate disciplinary processes and sanctions are in place, noting that a “zero tolerance approach” is unhelpful as it implies initiations do not happen

Provide clear reporting systems and advertise support available to students

Raise awareness of initiations and their risks among students and staff

Organise appropriate staff training, identifying the levels of training needed for different staff. First responders will need the most training, for example.

Work with the local council, licensees and partners to ensure the campus environment promotes responsible behaviours towards drinking

Work with alumni to encourage an increased sense of responsibility for the safety of student groups and societies of which they were a part

Prof Chris Day, a Universities UK board member, said: “Three years ago we lost a bright, talented, much-loved student in one of the worst ways possible. I think there is no doubt that it was the situation Ed found himself in that night which led to him drinking an excessive quantity of alcohol over a very short period of time. This, together with a lack of knowledge from his fellow students about the dangers of drinking to excess, resulted in the most tragic of outcomes.

“We all wish we could rewind three years and change what happened that night. But we can’t go back and so instead we are looking forward and doing everything we can to minimise the chances of anything like this happening again.”

Jeremy Farmer, father of Ed Farmer, said: ”The loss of any young man at the start of their adult life is a tragedy. When the young man in question is one of your own sons, who had intelligence, wit and compassion beyond his years, but yet died so needlessly the loss is all the more devastating.

“Ed had managed to navigate a very easy and enjoyable path through life, but on that night his good fortune well and truly deserted him. Nobody was to blame, and no one should blame themselves. The outcome could have been so different.

“As a family we appreciate the difficulties in stopping these needless deaths, but would like to thank all those involved within the university sector who are working hard to try and reduce the risks of something similar happening again, without impacting on the social lives of students.”

As for online, the 42-page document notes that use of online media to harass and/or coerce people is a growing concern for students and universities. Visit https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/.


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