Three new roommates recently moved into the house where I live. This, of course, means that I can no longer walk across the patio in my bra or have an extra bedroom devoted exclusively to watching movies and dancing cumbia. All in all, though, I think having more people around will be a positive change, especially since rainy Chilean winters, one of which is fast approaching, lend themselves to reclusive behavior.
All three of my new housemates are first-year students at a university here in Santiago. The other day, one of them came home and took a 30-minute shower. Afterword, he explained that he had been trying to scrub the smell of fish out of his skin.
For it is indeed the fishiest time of the year. It is also a time of flour-caked hair, torn clothing and the innards of raw eggs. That's right: It's the beginning of the school year, and Chilean freshmen must suffer. Chilean freshmen like my roommate, who got fish heads AND A PIG HEAD thrown at him on one of his first days of school. Freshmen like those who prowl the streets barefoot begging for change so they can buy their shoes back from the upperclassmen. Freshmen like the guy who had chemicals thrown on his face a few years ago or the woman who was hit by a train and killed during a hazing activity in 2000.
I haven't seen the shoeless student beggars out on the streets this year. What I don't know is whether this is because I was out of the country during most universities' first week of school or because the February 27 earthquake has had a sobering effect on would-be tormentors. This would be the perfect time for upperclassmen to follow Universidad Catolica Silva Henriquez's lead and replace hazing with organized community service activities. God knows there are plenty of people in this country who could use help and would be able to put to much better use the food hazing wastes and the clothing it destroys. Additionally, I believe incoming students would bond much more effectively while working together in pursuit of a common goal than while ducking out of the way of fresh batches of raw seafood. However, my roommate's experience makes it obvious that not everyone feels the same way.
Earthquake aside, what maddens me most about hazing (or mechoneo, as it's called here) is that it seems completely and totally incompatible with the ideals many university students profess. I'd be willing to bet that some of the students lobbing fish heads at freshmen have also spoken out in support of issues of students' rights and social justice. How can you fight for increased assistance for economically disadvantaged students one minute and shred their clothes and waste food the next? How can you clamor for increased solidarity while orchestrating an initiation ritual based on humiliation? In my humble opinion, the whole thing is more rancid than rotten fish.