Hazing in Thai universities breeds authoritarianism: Anti-SOTUS group

A youth group opposing hazing rituals commonly practised in Thai universities is urging students to confront hazers with reasons, pointing out that the rituals breed authoritarianism in Thai society.

A youth group called ‘ANTI-SOTUS’ on Saturday, 4 June 2016, organised a public discussion at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, about the SOTUS system in Thailand.

The SOTUS system (Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, and Spirit) is a common set of values among many of Thailand’s tertiary education institutions, where junior students are expected to respect older students and are subjected to harassment by their seniors, especially during university hazing rituals.

At the forum, Parit Chiwarak, Secretary-General of Education for Liberation of Siam, a group comprising mostly high school students campaigning for progressive education reform, pointed out that supporters of hazing in universities who like to claim seniority, tradition and unity to justify the rituals, prolong the SOTUS system which promotes authoritarianism in Thai society.

The young education reformist urged youth to confront senior hazers in the universities with reasons to let them reconsider the SOTUS culture and why they support it.

Sirawit Serithiwat, an embattled anti-junta activist, who also participated in the forum, pointed out that the SOTUS culture in the country is prevalent not only within universities, but it is practiced since childhood in families and schools where children are taught to get used to obeying rules and orders. Therefore, once adolescents enter universities, it is not surprising that most of them choose to obey arbitrary orders from their seniors.

After freshmen undergo the hazing rituals within the university, the SOTUS culture is further reinforced in workplaces where those who bow down to senior colleagues and their superiors get promoted. Therefore, it is not only about universities, but society in general, Sirawit concluded.

Panuwat Songsawatchai, Deputy Secretary-General of ANTI-SOTUS, said at the forum that in recent years, hazing rituals in many universities have been adapted to suit current trends; for example, good looking seniors are usually tasked to call upon university freshmen to participate. However, arbitrary violence and intimidation are common throughout the rituals.

In 2015, there was a headline news story about freshman studying in the northern province of Nan where a female student’s body was covered with bruises after undergoing the hazing rituals. The ANTI-SOTUS group assisted the girl in filing a complaint to the police. However, the police told her that she might find it difficult to continue to live in Nan if she filed the complaint, so at the end she chose not to do so, said Phanuwat.

Another panellist at the event, Wannasingh Prasertkul, a writer and TV programme host, told the audience that everybody needs to feel that they are accepted and respected, which is related to one’s self-esteem and ego. Therefore, despite the fact that the SOTUS culture suppresses people, it gives university seniors who perform the hazing rituals, a sense of identity and the feeling of being accepted.

Urging people to question the SOTUS culture, Wannasingh said “one’s identity and the feeling of being accepted do not need to come from suppressing others.”     

At the end of the event, Chawit Worasan, Acting Secretary of the ANTI-SOTUS group, said that the group will continue to campaign against the SOTUS culture in Thai universities and society at large and will try to reach out to public and private agencies alike in getting rid of the SOTUS culture.

Parit Chiwarak, Secretary-General of Education for Liberation of Siam, talks about SOTUS culture at a public forum at Chulalongkorn University on 4 June 2016