Petition launched after Otago law camp cancelled

University of Otago students angered over the cancellation of a law camp have launched a petition calling for the camp to be reinstated.

The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls) cancelled its annual second-year law camp this week following a series of allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling.

The petition founder, named as Mhairi Mackenzie Everitt, wrote on Change.org that students had "suffered a low blow" with the cancellation.

"All second year students have been looking forward to an event that was supposed to be a crazy fun weekend dedicated to forming deep collegial bonds with our classmates," she said.

The petition is addressed to to Pro Vice Chancellor of Humanities Professor Tony Ballantyne and by 9am had attracted more than 250 signatures. 

The camp has been highly scrutinised by former students for the levels of alcohol consumed and the activities run during the weekend.

The camp is organised by Souls, and has been running for at least the past 10 years.

The camp was scheduled to be held this weekend.

One former camp-goer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Otago Daily Times it was ''a great shame that the bureaucrats have decided this event is not appropriate''.

He described the camp, which he attended last year, as ''one of the most impressive and entertaining weekends of my life'', and said everyone who bought tickets to the camp ''knew what was going to happen''.

''I purchased my ticket knowing it would be an absolutely crazy rite of passage I wouldn’t get to experience again in my life.

''We all knew about the wrestling and the stripping, if anybody was averse they simply didn’t buy a ticket.''

He said he was one of the guys who was ''at the tail end of the ‘peer pressure’ '' to get kitted up into girls clothing and strip.

''However once I had expressed dissent, nobody gave me a second thought.'' 

He defended Souls, saying the group was ''fantastic in administration'' and ''responsible and sensible in every way''.

Earlier story

Yesterday, Souls put out a statement saying the pro-vice chancellor and the university were not prepared to support the camp, previously held at Camp Iona, near Herbert.

"Without this support, regrettably, Souls is unable to run the camp this year.''

Souls president Tim Austen said the event had relied on the support of the law faculty and wider university, which provided assistance with security, while the proctor signed off an event management plan.

Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan has attended parts of previous camps as a guest but could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Details of the behaviour at the camps came to light after a former student said she attended a camp in 2012 which included activities such as stripping and jelly wrestling, which made some students uncomfortable.

Since then, more students have come forward with reports of excessive drinking and other behaviour which they deemed inappropriate.

Souls and the university met yesterday afternoon, following which humanities pro-vice chancellor Prof Tony Ballantyne released a statement saying a rethink and redesign of the event was required.

Prof Ballantyne said the university would support Souls with future events.

Two complaints about the event had been received last year and all concerns about the camps were taken seriously and were being examined by the university, he said.

Prof Ballantyne said he could not comment on individual staff, as there was a due process to be followed.

The complainant who sparked the controversy claimed her 2012 Law Camp experience was tainted by a talent quest featuring male strippers, and unsavoury drinking games.

However, another 2012 attendee, who did not wish to be named, said her experience that year was very different.

"You didn't have to do anything you didn't want to do,'' she said.

"It's a big event for students to get to know one another ... I don't know who spoke out about 2012 one and it's a shame if she had a really bad experience but I think it's really disappointing that this year's one has been cancelled.''

Several other former law students who contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday said their experiences of the camps were much different from those who found it inappropriate.

One of those former students, Bridget Morton, said she attended the camp in 2011. While there was some excessive intoxication and nudity, no-one was forced to participate.

Students knew before they arrived what happened at the camps, Ms Morton said.

A ticket to the camp cost about $200 and it was a totally voluntary event, she said.

She was not sure if Prof Henaghan or any other staff member attended the camp but if they did, it could only have been for a very brief time.

"With the 200 people who would have attended, 198 would have had a good time and those who didn't, from my experience, were never forced into anything and were allowed to leave at any time.''

When pressed on whether specific alleged incidents were being investigated, the university said: "We are not commenting on individual staff members, as there is a due process to follow when examining concerns received this weekend. Please respect this.''

However, the university confirmed it was examining three issues that had been raised.

Meanwhile, a former University of Auckland law student has alleged a staff member tried to take her to his seaside bach during a lunch break last July, leaving her "very uncomfortable''. - additional reporting The New Zealand Herald

Comments

I think I am in the wrong job, where else can you party up large and earn $300-$400 an hour.

"As dead flies putrify the perfumer's ointment, so is a little folly unto those respected for wisdom and understanding."

Who said that? Wisdom and understanding don't automatically follow just by being in a high status profession.

This "problem" is easily solved ... the camp needs a independent chaperone to ensure there are no shananigins going on.

I'm quite happy to undertake this position on a volunteer basis ... as long as I get a bowl of jelly ...

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