Changing times and student behaviour

The furore over the student law camp is a sign of the times. Who would have cared in earlier times about a camp where some of the men stripped and students indulged in unsavoury drinking games?

Today, however, society - especially in the wake of appalling revelations about abuse from powerful men - is rightly sensitive to any behaviour that might smack of misogyny or make women feel uncomfortable or pressured.

The claims of improper conduct at law firm Russell McVeagh involving summer students and others, as well as particular concerns in the United States about sexual violence and student vulnerability, have heightened awareness. Such disquiet includes behaviour on New Zealand campuses.

It is against this background a complaint has been made about the 2012 camp organised by The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls) and two complaints lodged with the University of Otago about last year's camp. Auckland University's law camp has also now been condemned.

Although Souls vowed to clamp down on drunkenness and ban ''full nudity'' at its camp, the University of Otago felt obliged to withdraw its support and Souls said, regrettably, it could not proceed with this weekend's camp.

This issue has brought a strong response from many current and former law students, with praise for the esprit de corp created, the fun had and the contacts made. Points include the fact anyone choosing to go would likely know it would include drinking games and stripping options, that those declining to take part in certain activities were not pressured to do so and that attention was paid to the risks of excessive drunkenness. There is also a social service element to the camp.

Although legitimate arguments are raised, and although young people playing drinking games, jelly wrestling or stripping is nothing new or exceptional, times have changed. An event with any sort of official sanction has to be careful with its boundaries. Just as initiations at colleges were modified to eliminate drunkenness and bullying, an event like the law camp has to change.

It could well be, for example, that students who might have gained much from the camaraderie of the camp were put off going because of its reputation. And no matter the organisers' aims and their support and control measures, heavy drinking is a safety and welfare matter.

The university has been endeavouring to modify the drinking and partying image at Otago for many years, a difficult task given the pervasive bingeing culture across society, often already ingrained in high school.

At the same time, the ''social'' and party slice of life at Otago draws many students. Why not, in this short period of their life, party hard as well as study hard? No wonder many students think the university is trying to kill ''student culture''.

The public might also be surprised, though, about the large numbers involved in university social life in all sorts of ways with no or minimal alcohol.

The name of much-admired Faculty of Law dean Mark Henaghan has become part of the story because he has visited camps.

In hindsight, because of some of the events and because his presence adds an official stamp to the camp, that was not wise. And while he clearly cares intensely about students in his friendly and avuncular way, his willingness to relate to them and their behaviour has been criticised. He is also known for colourful anecdotes and enthusiasm for Otago and student life, as well as for his professional expertise.

The popularity and support for the camp is appreciable. Hopefully, lessons can be learned, some of the events can be modified and law students can enjoy themselves in a fully collegial and inclusive way.


It is possible that the New Age Movement has something to do with all this correctness and perfectionisms of character.

The quality of the journalism and lack of editorial control in the reporting of this "story" has been appalling, and is not improved by the summary and ridiculous observations in this unnamed opinion piece. Let's hope the ODT has "learned some lessons" and can restore its journalistic integrity when dealing with the reporting of any serious issues in the future.