PHITSANULOK — A ceremony, watched over by professors, sanctifies a wooden pole. Freshmen in white carry a heavy wooden pillar around the campus before placing it in front of the Architecture Faculty building, where they dance and sing around it.
Then, the dirty part begins. Using hoses, upperclassmen make everything wet and muddy as the the digging starts to erect the pole while shouting ensues. The whole thing takes hours.
This recent hazing activity, criticized as another example of abusive hazing, is being defended as a valuable tradition by seniors and alumni of Naresuan University’s architecture program.
“We are proud of this pole installation ceremony. It shows the essence of the Faculty of Architecture, because every time we build a house, we have to dig and install a central pole,” third-year student Parima Sooklert said Wednesday.
“The students come from different families, but they have to learn to love and cooperate together. This ceremony helps them to learn to help out each other. If the pole is too heavy, someone quickly runs in to help them,” Parima said.
She was one of several to step forward after the practice became criticized by anti-hazing activists looking to limit the practice of SOTUS, as it is known by an acronym for Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity and Spirit.
“What the heck do they need to do that for?” Panuwat Songsawatchai, a 25-year-old activist said by phone Thursday. “What if the pole falls and whacks someone in the face? It’s a heavy-ass wooden pillar. Don’t architecture students know that people die when that happens?”
Panuwat is member of an online group called Anti Sotus, which has strongly condemned the activity.
Panuwat said the activity, whose full name is “Welcoming Freshmen Pillar Installation: Creating Foundations,” is not only dangerous but could be count as sexual harassment since female upperclassmen are forced to wear white while their male peers soak them, leaving their shirts transparent.
“We can’t just wait until someone dies before alerting people,” he said. “SOTUS deaths never get justice. The seniors just cry and apologize.”
But another third-year Naresuan student, Pantawan Konglakorn, told Khaosod on Wednesday that the Anti Sotus page was only presenting the negative aspects of the tradition. After the freshmen are done planting the pole, he said seniors rinse them, wipe their faces and tie bai sri strings tied around their wrists to welcome them. Disadvantaged students are also awarded scholarships during the event.
The upperclassmen said the activity has gone on for almost 20 years, while Anti Sotus said it was a recent invention.
Apinan Lek Buabok, an alumni posted publicly on Facebook that the mud crawling and pole installing was a positive tradition.
“Everyone has to help each other, trading off digging and carrying the pole. Of course some of the kids tease each other and some of the roon p tease. But it’s a normal thing to happen because we need the pole to withstand the rain and sun,” he wrote.
He said the activity helps to “melt the attitudes” of the freshmen, instill teamwork and get them to “help each other wake up in time for class.”
“I’m damaged by you posting about this. I graduated in 2010,” Apinan wrote in messages to the Anti Sotus page, which Apinan shared on the page.
One video shows freshmen carrying a large wooden column while a senior screams, “You wanna hold it in your mouth?”
Although it the activities are not academically mandatory, upperclassmen told the freshmen that they needed to collect extracurricular activity hours, saying that they were necessary for graduation, Anti Sotus said.
“We’ve been doing this page for seven years,” an Anti Sotus post wrote, in response to the defenses. “It’s the same old story and excuse. And people who don’t participate will get psychologically bullied later.”
Commentator Klattlsak Prasatthong said that people who do not participate get bullied later. “The seniors said it was okay to not participate, so I didn’t. But during class hours, no one would even talk to me. The seniors told them not to.”