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Drunk students at elite French school run amok
Drunk students from HEC run amok. Photo: Winnie Liu/Flickr

Drunk students at elite French school run amok

Joshua Melvin · 28 May 2014, 15:10

Published: 28 May 2014 15:10 GMT+02:00

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A group of students at the elite Hautes Etudes Commericales (HEC) may have taken a page this week from their American counterparts who have a penchant for drunken mayhem.

Following a genteel gathering on Tuesday to mark the end of the year, HEC students kept on drinking at the campus in the Paris suburb of Jouy-en-Josas and things got a little out of control.

“The night started with a drink, then some students continued at an “after party”. They started throwing furniture out the windows and then everybody began doing it,” an unnamed student told French daily Le Parisien. “The fire alarms were ringing in half the buildings on campus. It was bad enough that the police came, which they never do.”

The students also tagged and doused walls with beer and sprayed fire extinguishers in campus hallways of the prestigious school founded in 1881. It is one of France’s “Grandes Écoles” a class of higher learning institutions that have rigorous entrance requirements and regularly churn out the country’s ruling elites.

However HEC chiefs played down the seriousness of the college mayhem.

It was not a riot, HEC Secretary General Olivier Moreau told Le Parisien.  

“Campus security quickly called the local police. We are in the process of establishing the number of participants, but all the involved students will be sent before a disciplinary board,” he added.

This is not the first time French students’ boozy behaviour has made the news as young French people imitate the binge drinking habits of their Anglo cousins.

In November last year The Local reported how a court in Nanterre, near Paris, found a students’ union guilty of manslaughter for allowing hard alcohol to be served at a student party in 2005, during which a 19-year-old man drank 15 shots in half an hour, before dying of an alcohol-induced coma.

Elite French students inspired by US counterparts

The tragedy brought to light what had become a rampant culture of heavy drinking on the campuses of French universities, in particular the most elite among them – the “Grandes Ecoles.”

Just weeks after the death of Thomas, French magazine L’Expresspublished a scathing opinion column, condemning the “orgies of alcohol” that had permeated French third-level education.

“The exceptional nature of this drama [the death of Thomas] shouldn’t hide a daily reality that is as normalized as it is disturbing,” wrote Henri Haget.

“Based on the image of the American college campus, student parties – especially in the grandes écoles – are more and more often just an excuse for orgies of alcohol,” said Haget.

Ultimately, the episode helped contribute to the 2009 Bachelot Law on public health, which - among other measures - banned free "open bar" nights at pubs and clubs, targeted at university students.

Story continues below…

While the events at the centre of Tuesday's ruling took place in 2005, binge drinking among France's youth more generally, doesn't seem to have abated since then.

Back in March, The Local reported a study which found that alcohol abuse had become the number one cause of hospitalisation in the country, with short emergency room stays for injuries related to drunken trips and falls skyrocketing by 80 percent in just three years.

“Getting plastered on a night out has become a real badge of honour for many of our young people, especially young women, which is particularly disturbing,” gastroenterologist Dr. Damien Labarrière said at the time.

Those revelations came just two weeks after a report which found that, among the general population, 134 people died in France every day, from alcohol-related illnesses and incidents.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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