The performance of Unisa medical students

Image: Alex Montes


The performative submission of hazing has no end to hazing itself, it is part of a social dynamic of commodified health

In a radio broadcast, Theodor Adorno asked the question “Education, what for?”. We must ask this same question when today we see the amazing performance of Unisa medical students when they performed a “hand job” while watching the women's match in the student games known as Calomed. The situation is more frightening when we know that it is nothing new, just google it to find similar facts in universities and colleges across the country every year; and it gets worse, in this case, when you know that the protagonists are people who will soon take care of people.

This will continue to happen as long as education is not a factor of emancipation, but rather a transmission belt for market needs, in addition to being a mere platform for social advancement for the individual.

Eight years ago, a doctor friend and I wrote an article for Major Card (reproduced by Rebuildables), in which we analyzed a set of very similar factors, which were brought to light by a CPI that became known, at the time, as the CPI dos Trotes. As little has changed since then, we decided to reproduce what still seems to us to say something about what happened to the medical students at Unisa, and to ask ourselves: “Education, for what”?


The CPI of prank calls

In 2014 happened to CPI of Hazing, opened at the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo – Alesp, to investigate numerous complaints that reached that House regarding Human Rights violations in São Paulo universities. Due to the seriousness of the facts presented, during the four months of the CPI, the press continued to cover the work of the Commission led by then deputy Adriano Diogo. In November 2015, one year passed since the Public Hearing, also at Alesp, which gave rise to the CPI; and, in March, it will be one year since the CPI ended.

Last Sunday, the newspaper State of Sao Paulo (edition of 3/1/2016, pp. E11), on the main cover of Caderno Metrópole, took stock of the developments of the CPI and the recommendations made by it. The newspaper's conclusion is that little progress has been made in most faculties, and impunity and leniency seem to be preponderant traits of public agents and leaders who should continue the work of the CPI dos Trotes in an effective and not cosmetic way, with the exception of prosecutor Paula de Figueiredo e Silva, who first accepted the complaints sent to the MPE/SP and opened an investigation; of the colleagues who succeeded her in the case, prosecutors Beatriz Helena Budin Fonseca and Silvia Chakian de Toledo Santos; the management of PUCCAMP (Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas); and, of course, the courageous action of the victims and witnesses who came forward and of groups of students and teachers who, outside the institution, put in place mechanisms to curb abuse and generate a more humanized culture.

We will not deal here with the matter of State of Sao Paulo, but discuss one of the most prominent consequences and little debated about what can lead to this state of affairs when not taken seriously and resolved. We are talking here about something little known, but present in the daily lives of many educational institutions: the hidden curriculum.

Hidden CV

The focus we give below is on medical schools, since they were the most heavily used during the CPI on Hazing, but it is valid for all educational institutions that allow hazing practices in their academic environments.

A descriptive text that listed forms of hazing: paint, flour, shaved hair; perianal toothpaste; forced alcohol; urine bath; vomit pool; euphemistic forms of sexual abuse, etc. The list, as the CPI of universities demonstrated, would have no end. But it would be a waste of time to write a text just to say that it's not cool to throw feces at your colleagues, right?

Most people understand hazing as a set of supposedly friendly reception practices, with a humorous intention, but which from time to time get out of control. The intention here is to reject this discourse and show that the barbarities reported are not 'accidents' or 'exaggerations', nor are they limited to the period of reception. On the contrary: such cases are natural derivations of what represents the very essence of the hazing phenomenon. And its consequences unfold far beyond the first weeks of the course.

The hazing culture has its origins before entering university. This is evident from the folklore surrounding the theme, which permeates school imagery, the approach to cinema and literature, the marketing of “cram school” companies, etc. In this sense, newcomers are generally not surprised by trot groups – they already expected them, often with euphoria and anxiety.

It is worth mentioning that this expectation is only possible in a situation where the right to education is restricted. Higher education (especially medicine) is understood as a prize, disputed unequally by the privileged sectors of society that had access to private education and\or by the subgroup that can pay the very expensive monthly fees. The students who enter are then nurtured with self-aggrandizement and pride regarding their “achievement” and their college (which was well exemplified by the songs of athletics and fraternities during the CPI [1]). It is common for trot groups to feed this culture of jingoism and superiority,[2] highlighting his classism and arrogance.

The hazing ritual, then, reveals the relationships of veteranism that demarcate the insertion of the newly admitted into the hierarchical dynamics of the university. The games contain an implicit constitutive of performative submission, that is, they playfully play with the veteran's theatrical authority over the freshman. Jokes, in general, highlight the prerogatives that the older person has over the younger person. And this humor is usually embalmed by all the most prejudiced and marginalizing assumptions contained in society (sexist, racist, transphobic, lgbtphobic jokes and chants, etc., are not uncommon).

“Pussy, pussy, pussy I eat dry. In the ass, I spray spit. Medicine, medicine is only at USP!” – shout the seniors, surrounding the freshmen – “I was in the bathroom fucking the maid, the Indian opened the door and I fucked the wrong ass”.[3]

In view of this, we observe that the essence of hazing rests on the verticality of relationships between veterans and freshmen, on the inequality of power, voice and prerogatives between these characters. This phenomenon can be expressed in friendly dynamics, but it can also become radicalized in more violent situations, which varies and is a result of its very nature.

The verticality imposed in the relationship of veteranism makes up the majority of university institutions (CAs, DAs, athletics, fraternities, etc.) and extends to the teaching environment itself, in which the oldest, in the hierarchy, tend to teach the youngest ( interns, residents, preceptors) the relevant conduct. Despite the difficulties inherent in learning technical knowledge, this obviously generates methodological consequences for the way in which university culture develops. Classes are expository, student entities are hierarchical, knowledge and decisions are constructed vertically.

In short, we observe that, especially in medical courses, a hidden curriculum operates, parallel to the official curriculum. Through student entities, in many cases financed and supervised by former members (now graduates, doctors, teachers), unquestionable traditions and social architectures permeable to harassment and systematic violence are perpetuated. The scope of the consequences is incalculable, but no less palpable, as indicated by the countless cases of rape and consequences due to hazing.

The construction of the hazing culture and its foundations (hierarchy, jingoism, collective violence) gives homogeneity to university groups and forms a corporate unit that is averse to contestation. In other words, the performative submission of hazing has no end to hazing itself, but wastes its continuity in the construction of a passive stance on the part of students, who are inserted into a social dynamic of commodified health, not as transformative agents, but as operators in the face of an unhealthy social order.

It is important to emphasize that hazing constitutes an exclusive culture. Those who refuse to accept the rituals or confront trot groups are then persecuted by the hegemonic bloc. The CPI of Universities made evident both the lack of institutions that would accept complaints, and the difficulty of guaranteeing the protection of complainants, in many cases threatened by teachers, victims of physical attacks, etc.

Breaking with the culture of hazing and its rituals means, in addition to defending victims of human rights violations and investigating complaints, asserting with authority that the university is a space for collective construction and, therefore, only a democratic ideology can form practices, conceptions and professionals committed to the health of the population.

*Allan Brum is a doctor and writer.

*Ricardo Kobayaski He is a professor and human rights activist.

Originally published in Current Brazil Network, “Human rights violations and hidden curriculum”.


[1] “School of tradition, great beyond comparison. In sports sovereign, in science unparalleled” – excerpt from a song by Show Medicina, a fraternity at the USP Faculty of Medicine denounced in prostitution and violence scandals

[2] The Freudian concept of narcissism of small differences is very enlightening, which explains the very often hostile attitude of athletes towards their supposed enemies, in a clear psychological mechanism of inferiorizing the rival group in order to elevate themselves to higher levels

[3] “Pussy, pussy, pussy I eat dry. In the ass, I spray spit. Medicine, medicine is only at USP!” or “I was in the bathroom fucking the maid, the Indian opened the door and I fucked the wrong ass” – chants of the AAAOC (Associação Atlética Acadômica Osvaldo Cruz da FMUSP), with “Indian” being a term used to refer to students from another college (Escola Paulista de Medicina)

To find out more about the CPI dos Trotes, see Bridge Journalism, “The open veins of the USP Faculty of Medicine”.

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