The uninitiated might consider a Cambridge University law exam to be a rather dry, impenetrable affair, full of technical jargon and obscure legal references.
However, the Cambridge students who somberly filed into a lecture hall to sit a criminal law paper this weekend, found that the reality was somewhat more colorful.
Asked to select two questions designed to test their knowledge on a range of legal issues, they were presented with a graphic depiction of a fictional college drinking society’s initiation ceremony involving oral sex, male rape and naked torture.
The question provoked incredulity amongst many undergraduates, one of whom described it as “horrific”. Others took umbrage at the “total misrepresentation” of most student clubs and societies.
More than 200 students, most of them freshers, from the university’s 23 colleges sat the three-hour exam at the prestigious Faculty of Law on Saturday morning.
Question nine, which was in three parts, began with a short introduction:
“Sandra is President of The Vizards, a College drinking society. She is organising the initiation of new members. After a great deal of alcohol has been drunk, the members of the society form a circle around Billy, Gilbert and Richard who are to be initiated.”
The question then described three initiation rituals in which a male student was blindfolded and given oral sex by another man, another was subjected to an indecent assault with a bottle and a third died from an infection after his pubic hair was removed.
The students were asked to say which offences, if any, had been committed.
Within hours of the end of the exam, many had used social media to express their horror and surprise. Online student newspaper The Tab said the reaction from the student body had “varied from incredulity to mild amusement”.
Sebastian Salek, a third year law student at Clare College, said: “It was surprising to see the university directly reference drinking societies and particularly initiations, which they generally tend to turn a blind eye to.”
An English undergraduate identified only as Miranda JP wrote on Twitter: “That’s a horrific question – so far beyond acceptable and a total misrepresentation of most socs, actually”.
The faculty is said to be well-versed in using lewd scenarios to test their students’ knowledge.
A law paper posted online last year posed a similar question about a drinking society initiation ceremony that involved running naked through Cambridge whilst being beaten with stinging nettles.
Another involved an unwanted homosexual advance that resulted in a third party being stabbed in the face and thrown alive into a refuse truck.
Cambridge has many drinking societies with names such as the Harlots, Caesarians, Ferretz, Wyverns, and Beefsteak. There is no suggestion that any have initiation ceremonies like those described in the law exam.
But their antics often provoke criticism and warnings that they are bringing the university into disrepute.
A University of Cambridge spokesman said: “In the Part One Criminal Law examination paper set by the University of Cambridge Law Faculty hypothetical situations are presented in order to test students’ understanding of different aspects of Criminal Law.”