The incident led the university to tighten up its code of conduct, and to make all student clubs sign a charter of acceptable behaviour. Reuzegom refused, putting at risk its funding from the university, as well as access to university facilities. According to reports, several other members of the club have also been suspended.
The university said it has taken the action because the student “had not distanced himself from the fatal initiation rite.” The fact that he, too, had been hurt during the proceedings was not a mitigating factor: the student must have known that inhumane treatment formed part of the ritual, yet he declined to step out when it took place, affecting both himself and others.
The student’s lawyer, Tom Peeters, said the decision was “a harsh punishment” for someone who was also a victim. “We’ll have to see if we can start an appeals procedure,” he told the VRT.
The disciplinary measure runs until September when the new academic year begins. It means the students concerned will not be able to take any exams this year, and will have to repeat.
Some of the students who took part in the ritual will not face suspension. “The students who showed remorse during the procedure will be dealt with by another approach,” said university vice-rector Chantal Van Audenhove. That is likely to mean some kind of community service. Some will also be made to give a presentation on the subject of how to carry out club initiations responsibly, the VRT said.