Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

Portugal: Debate on student associations and their freshmen initiation rituals

The death of six Portuguese students from Universidade Lusófona in Lisbon has provoked a countrywide debate on Portuguese fraternity and sorority-like student organisations and their university student traditions, commonly known as praxe. The incident occurred in mid-December but has since then received immense media coverage and significant attention from the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science.

Although the events behind the death of the Portuguese students are subject to speculations as investigations are still ongoing, they are believed to be linked to an initiation ritual for freshmen students. The students have been swept away by a huge wave on a beach in Portugal and had supposedly a footcuff-like stone attached to their ankle. As the incident is assumed to be part of a praxe ritual, discussions on university fraternities and sororities have been the centre of media attention for weeks now. University representatives have refused any accountability, as the incidents had not taken place at university facilities but 40 kilometres away at the seaside resort Meco.

A group of academic student associations and federations has reacted to the countrywide debate on praxes and has called for binding regulations concerning the issue of initiation rituals. The death of the six students has led the Portuguese Minister of Education, Higher Education and Science Nuno Crato to summon a meeting with representatives of student associations and the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities to discuss the most recent events and the suggestion for new binding regulations.

Praxes have a century-old tradition in Portuguese academic life and are, similar to fraternity and sorority-like student organisations in other countries, a common component at universities. In many cases they require newly enrolled students to participate in initiation rituals performed by older students. Although far from being all equal and normally regulated through student associations, praxes have been regularly criticised for their demoting and humiliating nature. Already in the past, incidents linked to praxes rituals or other forms of student association activities caused immense uproar such as in 2001 as a student died due to severe head injuries or in 2003 when a student brought a case of a sexually abusive praxe ritual to court. 

CRUP - Diário Económico (in Portuguese)

Academic Association of Coimbra - Statement (in Portuguese)