Rag - with respect
By Elaine Yau
Unseemly behaviour in the name of ragging is a traditional problem on university campuses, and Hong Kong campuses are no exception.
Ragging is the physical and psychological abuse of freshmen by senior students. It's a ritual that inducts newcomers into the group.
There have been reports about lurid incidents at campus orientation camps.
This month, Polytechnic University (PolyU) students came under fire for dubious orientation games, following the posting on YouTube of a video displaying overtly sexual behaviour among students (the video has since been removed).
Other internet forums have shown similar campus behaviour.
Ken Lam, 27, a biochemistry graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, recalled the humiliations and embarrassment he and his freshman peers experienced at the hands of seniors.
He said the 'baptism by fire' was repeated year after year as senior students dished out to newcomers the same ragging they experienced as freshmen.
While some students can take the rough treatment, others find it hard to cope. Although students are not forced to take part in the ragging games and rituals, they know that if they don't they will be branded as 'anti-social' and will be excluded from the group.
Among the most victimised of the students are those staying in campus hostels.
'Living in a hostel can be a nightmare, especially for shy students,' Mr Lam said.
What many students do not realise is that ragging of this nature can be considered a form of sexual harassment.
'Off-colour jokes and games may amuse the perpetrators, but they create a sexually hostile environment that's offensive to others,' said Mariana Law, a spokesperson for the Equal Opportunities Commission.
'The informal atmosphere of a university campus can be conducive to such behaviour,' Ms Law said.
In response to a flood of complaints about offensive ragging, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has created an online course aimed at preventing sexual harassment on campuses.
Eight universities are participating in the scheme.
Comprising quizzes, case studies and legal definitions of sexual harassment, the one-hour course promotes mutual respect among male and female students.
Lingnan University has incorporated the online course in its freshman orientation programme this year.
'More than 600 freshmen will complete the course in batches,' said Lingnan's senior public affairs officer Alice Chen.
Chung Kam-lun, 18, a cultural studies freshman at Lingnan, said he was relieved to find the orientation camp a lot less 'sexually-charged' than he had expected.
Other universities are also taking measures to ensure that orientation camps and rituals were 'sex-free'.
The EOC believes more should be done to raise awareness of sexual equality. 'Students need to know that physical conduct and verbal remarks with sexual connotations could constitute sexual harassment,' said Ms Law.
'While having fun among themselves, they should always respect the opposite sex.'
The EOC's online course on sexual harassment can be viewed at http://www.eoc.org.hk: 8080/shoncampus /en/tls/otm/index.jsp