Reuzegom (established 1946) was a Flemish fraternity at KU Leuven, part of the Antwerp Guild of student societies (Antwerpse Gilde). It is known for a 2013 case of animal abuse and a 2018 case of psychological and physical abuse of three recruits that resulted in the death of one and the dissolution of the fraternity.

Reuzegom
FoundedFebruary 21, 1946; 76 years ago (1946-02-21)
Antwerp
TypeSocial
MottoUt vivat, crescat et floreat, Reuzegom!
Colors  Green
  White
FlagVlag Reuzegom.jpg
Members22 (2018) collegiate
NicknameReus, Reuzz
Dissolved2018
HeadquartersLeuven
Belgium

HistoryEdit

The fraternity was founded on 21 February 1946, by Frans De Meester, Remi Verselder and Hugo Schiltz. The original name of the society was OXACO-Leuven, an abbreviation for "Leuven chapter of Xaverius College Alumni". It grouped students at the Catholic University of Leuven who were alumni of Xaverius College, a secondary school in Borgerhout, Antwerp. In 1957, the name of the society was changed to "Reuzegom", a reference to the reuzekes (little giants) in Borgerhout folklore.[1][2]

In the seventies, the fraternity grew to be one of the leading fraternities among a dozen societies in the Antwerpse Gilde (the organisation of Antwerp fraternities and sororities in Leuven). At the time of its dissolution in 2018, the club had approximately thirty active members. All members were students of law, engineering, and business engineering at the KU Leuven. The fraternity was considered elitist,[1][3] and protected its exclusivity through a tradition of extreme hazing.[4] The fraternity had no black members until 2015. The second person of color to apply died during his initiation in 2018 as a result of abuse by seventeen other Reuzegom members.[5]

The Reuzegom emblem consisted of the Flemish Lion and the green and white house colors.

Cruelty complaintEdit

In 2013, animal rights group GAIA lodged a complaint against the club, after a video was leaked in which the fraternity had filmed themselves abusing and killing a piglet as part of the Reuzegom hazing ceremony. No one was charged.[6][7]

Hazing charterEdit

Later in 2013, after the animal cruelty incident, KU Leuven drew up a "hazing charter" to be signed by student societies, fraternities and sororities, in an attempt to make hazing practices safer. Signing the charter would have been a pledge to notify the city of the place and time of the hazing ceremony, and to abstain from violence, racism, extortion, bullying, sexual assault, discrimination, and the use of vertebrates. Reuzegom, as well as the other fraternities and sororities of the Antwerp Guild, refused.[6][8] In April 2019, the 28 other fraternities in Leuven signed the charter.[9]

Death of Sanda DiaEdit

In 2018, the twenty-year-old student Sanda Dia died as a result of the physical abuse he underwent during the two-day-long Reuzegom hazing ritual in Leuven and at a cabin in the woods in Vorselaar. He was admitted to Malle Hospital on 5 December at 9.15 p.m. At arrival, his body temperature was recorded as 27.2 °C (81 °F). He was presented bleeding from nose and mouth, and he was found to have extreme levels of blood salinity resulting from forced consumption of fish sauce and his peers' refusal to let him drink water or soda. A few hours after his arrival in the hospital, Dia died from multiple organ failure.[10][11][12]

While Dia was being treated in the hospital, the Reuzegom members, within a few hours, attempted to cover up what had happened by clearing the hut and the surrounding domain in Vorselaar of evidence of the abuse. When a police commissioner arrived at the scene at 4 a.m., he noted that it was "completely clean": not a garbage bag had been left behind. The pit in the ground in which Dia was later proven to have lain in icy water for hours had been filled in. The members of the club had also attempted to erase their digital traces, but some videos and photos were recovered. They showed Dia unconscious on the ground, a Reuzegom member defecating on someone (Dia or another initiate) in the pit, and the group chanting "Chop off those little hands, the Congo is ours" (a slur celebrating the colonial atrocities committed in the Congo Free State which included mass mutilation of Africans) to a homeless person of color on the street.[11]

Police recovered deleted WhatsApp messages revealing that Reuzegom members, whose parents were "judges, business leaders and politicians", had scrambled to "cover their tracks" in the wake of the death.[12] No member of the club, past or present, has issued a statement of apology to the family of the victim, either collectively or individually.[11]

DissolutionEdit

Following Dia's death, Reuzegom was dissolved.[10] As of July 2020, the identity of all Reuzegom members present and past had been, and remained, successfully removed from the internet and media, even though the names of the members, alumni and presidium (the governing members) were public knowledge, and even though Reuzegom alumni were known (already before Dia's death) to hold positions of power and responsibility.[13]

Although initially it was said the students present at the 2018 hazing ceremony would be suspended from the university,[14] this did not happen. Instead, the suspension was replaced with a disciplinary sanction of thirty hours of community service: the possibilities included writing an essay on the history of hazing traditions, providing free tutoring, and attending a holiday program.[15]

Judicial investigation and trialEdit

The criminal investigation of Sanda Dia's death concluded in July 2020, with a recommendation that Reuzegom members be charged with negligent homicide, humiliation, and premeditated administration of dangerous substances. Because one Reuzegom member involved in Dia's death is the son of a judge in Antwerp, the case could not be filed in Antwerp: to avoid conflicts of interest, the case has been moved to the neighboring province of Limburg.[16] The start of the trial itself, planned for early September, was delayed by a petition for further investigations by five of the accused. Trial lawyer Sven Mary, acting for Sanda Dia's father, stated that it would be better to allow this than to give grounds for a later appeal, but was critical of the last-minute timing.[17]

Public opinionEdit

After the conclusion of the judicial investigation in July 2020, a reconstruction of the 2018 Reuzegom initiation rite was published, leading to public outcry.[18][19] The hashtag #JusticeForSanda circulated on social media, encapsulating the concern that if the eighteen Reuzegom members implicated in the events of 2018 were not charged with felonies, they could continue their studies and, like their predecessors, come to occupy positions of power in society and in the legal system.[20][21]

On 4 September 2020, the day the trial was to have opened, a student protest calling for "Justice for Sanda" was held in Leuven,[22] followed the next day by a silent vigil to commemorate Dia.[23]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Reuzegom, de elitaire studentenclub die geen regels duldde". De Standaard (in Flemish). 8 December 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Reuzekens van Borgerhout". Reuzen in Antwerpen. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Een vuil clubje voor chique studenten: ex-leden doen boekje open over Reuzegom". Het Nieuwsblad (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  4. ^ "Elitaire studentenclub, diep gevallen". De Standaard (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Student dies in hospital after fraternity hazing goes wrong". VRT News. 7 December 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  6. ^ a b "KU Leuven Student Died After Hazing Gets Out of Hand". www.veto.be. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Leden studentenclub Reuzegom schoten biggetje dood". Het Nieuwsblad (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  8. ^ "Wat staat er eigenlijk in het Leuvense doopcharter?". www.veto.be (in Dutch). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  9. ^ "Uiteindelijk toch akkoord over doopcharter". Het Laatste Nieuws (in Dutch).
  10. ^ a b "Student club where student died is disbanded and faces charges". The Brussels Times. 12 December 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Pieter Huyberechts. "Wat er gebeurde na fatale studentendoop van Reuzegom: amper schuldgevoel, maar cover-up". De Standaard (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  12. ^ a b Matt Apuzzo; Steven Erlanger (5 October 2020). "A Black Belgian Student Saw a White Fraternity as His Ticket. It Was His Death". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  13. ^ "De laatste uren van de fatale studentendoop, deel 1: "Ze waren echt knock-out van de drank. Ze lagen op de grond en spraken niet meer"". Het Nieuwsblad. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Student injured in initiation rite gone wrong is suspended from classes". The Brussels Times. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  15. ^ "Statement concerning media reports on Reuzegom". nieuws.kuleuven.be. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Judge's son was present at fatal student initiation; application to change jurisdiction". The Brussels Times. 21 December 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  17. ^ Helen Goedgebeur; Caroline Van den Berghe; Rik Arnoudt (3 September 2020). "Vraag naar extra onderzoek over dood Sanda Dia schuift proces op". VRT Nieuws (in Dutch).
  18. ^ "De laatste uren van de fatale studentendoop, deel 1: "Ze waren echt knock-out van de drank. Ze lagen op de grond en spraken niet meer"". Het Nieuwsblad (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  19. ^ "De laatste uren van de fatale studentendoop, deel 2: "Het is onmenselijk wat daar is gebeurd"". www.nieuwsblad.be (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Pieter Huyberechts over #JusticeForSanda: "De reconstructie van zijn dood is noodzakelijk."". StuBru (in Dutch).
  21. ^ Dalilla Hermans. "Dertig uur folteren, dertig uur taakstraf". De Standaard (in Flemish). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  22. ^ "300-tal jongeren komen samen en vragen "gerechtigheid" voor Sanda Dia". VRT Nieuws (in Dutch). 4 September 2020.
  23. ^ Michaël Torfs (5 September 2020). "Leuven students stage silent vigil for hazing victim Sanda Dia". VRT News.