Student defends Otago law school amid 'frat house' claims

Tony Ballantyne
Tony Ballantyne
A third year University of Otago law student has defended the faculty amid claims of excessive drinking, jelly wrestling and nudity at its law camps.

The university is investigating after a former student, who did not want to be named, said she attended a second-year law camp in 2012, which descended into "an American fraternity house".

The camp included "uncomfortable" activities such as nudity and jelly wrestling, for which there was "a lot of social pressure" to join in, she told NZME.

There was excessive drinking and a strange talent quest in which a group of men stripped, one lay on the floor, and the others "poured beer down their butt cracks with the person at the bottom drinking it", she said.

 

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However, third-year Otago law student Rachel Stedman contacted the Otago Daily Times to defend the faculty, saying she had only ever had positive experiences with staff.

"I’m disgusted to the point of being really angry. I never felt like I was anything except a valued law student. I was given so much support."

University humanities pro-vice chancellor Prof  Tony Ballantyne said the university was told of concerns on Saturday afternoon "about a law camp from a number of years ago".

The concerns outline inappropriate behaviour allegedly witnessed at a law camp.

"This concern is taken seriously and will be promptly investigated. I urge any student with concerns to contact me directly."

The university also received information from two parents about concerns last year, he said.

"One parent was concerned about excessive drinking, while another was concerned about nudity during a student performance.

"These concerns were addressed. In light of these concerns it was made very clear to all participating that appropriate and respectful behaviour is required."

In a statement, the university said the camps had run for 10 years and were organised by the students so they could get to know each other and "build a culture of collegiality".

In recent years they had been signed off at University Proctor level.

"An event management plan to provide for safe drinking and behaviour is implemented with the students."

Excessive drinking and jelly wrestling were not appropriate, the spokeswoman said.

The law dean usually attended the camps as a guest of honour, she said.The dean, Prof  Mark Henaghan, did not respond to requests for comment by the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

Prof Henaghan last month announced he was leaving his role to work at Auckland University next year.

A former University of Otago law student also told NZME members of the law faculty acted inappropriately towards women for years.

Otago law was a "smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for men in the faculty", she said. The statement was in a message to a third party, but she agreed to allow NZME to publish the comments anonymously.

However, third-year Otago law student Rachel Stedman defended the faculty, saying she had only ever had positive experiences with staff.

"I’m disgusted to the point of being really angry. I never felt like I was anything except a valued law student. I was given so much support."

This year’s law camp is due to take place at the weekend.

Organisers of the event, the Society of Otago University Law Students, said changes were made in time for the upcoming camp.

"These changes were made under the guidance of the vice-chancellor, the law faculty and the university proctor.

"These include doubling the number of leaders so that each group has a male and female leader; requiring these leaders to be sober; and making the expectation clear that there is to be no full nudity at any time during the camp."

The accusations come in the wake of all six of New Zealand’s law schools cutting ties with firm Russell McVeagh  following sexual harassment accusations made last month.

jono.edwards@odt.co.nz

- additional reporting NZME

Comments

This is a NZ university using a great deal of tax payer money. I would like to be reassured that none of my tax money was involved in providing any part of this.