Portugal’s Minister of Higher Education recently made some negative comments about Praxe, a set of initiation rituals at Portuguese unis, that made me feel a mix of anger and disgust.
It is difficult to explain exactly what Praxe is if you are not from Portugal. It’s a set of costumes, rituals, codes of conduct, community work, dinners, songs, activities and hierarchies. For example, a suit and cape for older students to wear, a book on how students should behave during Praxe activities, hierarchies on who organizes what, etc. Each university has it’s own traditions, with different clothes, books, games, and so on.
The tradition of Praxe can be traced back to the 14th century, when monks used to perform rituals to initiate new entrants to the monastery. Praxe usually involves a weekly meeting where the older students wear their costumes and the younger students do as their seniors say, within the bounds of reason. The older students aim to break the ice between the freshmen by making them play together in a childish manner, almost like in kindergarten. Younger students are treated as children and if they make mistakes they are commanded to perform a physical activity, such as push-ups or jumping jacks. Usually, they play the sort of games you’d find in a kindergarten or on a scouts field trip. Never, ever with drinks even nearby. This is all with supervision from other elected students to assure everything stays in line with the code of conduct. Participating in Praxe is completely voluntary.