Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits has demanded a meeting with the region’s five universities and their student clubs, after a 20-year-old student died as a result of an initiation rite. The youth, who has not been named, was taking part in a ceremony to join the exclusive student club Reuzegom. Student clubs at Belgian universities are somewhat the equivalent of US fraternities: they are not interest-related like chess or drama clubs, but more social gatherings.
Reuzegom is known as being more of an elite club with a tendency to excess, and with a tough test for entry. The ceremony this week took place in the town of Vorselaar in Antwerp province.
The youth who died was made to drink fish oil, which according to doctors caused a swelling in his brain caused by the sudden intake of a strong salt solution. He was taken to Antwerp university hospital already in a coma, and never regained consciousness. Two other students were treated at the same time, but their condition is not serious.
The university said it was “shocked” by the news. Rector Luc Sels called on all student clubs to sign a charter on the limits of their behaviour during what they refer to as “baptisms” of new members, which usually involve some activity which is disgusting or humiliating. The charter has, however, been in existence since 2003, and about 15 clubs still refuse to sign.
Crevits, meanwhile, intends to call in representatives of the clubs and the universities, and the threat of withdrawing financing from any club that continues to refuse to sign the charter has been floated.
Those involved in the Vorselaar incident, however, may have more than the minister to answer to. An autopsy is to be carried out on the dead student, to determine the exact cause of death. If necessary, charges could be brought against the organisers of the baptism.