The fresher was said to be 'basically immobilised' from the burnsLouis Ashworth/Varsity

Students at Clare College’s drinking society escaped punishment for setting a fresher on fire during an initiation, and were instead “encouraged to make a donation to charity”, Varsity understands.

During a routine initiation of first-years taking place in January 2022, one student was accidentally set on fire after he was tasked with the challenge of putting out a lit toilet roll tucked into his shorts by running into the wind.

But after being covered in flammable liquid, he caught fire and had to be hospitalised. A Clare student told Varsity he was “basically immobilised” from the burns on his inner thighs.

However, according to a well-informed source, the members did not receive formal punishment from the College, and were instead encouraged to give money to charity. 

The source told Varsity that the members, bar the fresher who had been burnt, agreed to give £50 each to a charity for burn victims. 

Clare College did not respond to requests for comment. 


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The news spread quickly around Clare. One student said that most of their peers were not surprised by the incident, which was seen as inevitable based on the previous activities of the society. They told Varsity that most students were unclear as to why anyone would want to be involved in CRABS as an accident like this was bound to happen.

Controversies surrounding drinking societies are not new.

Earlier this term, the master of Downing College criticised the College’s drinking society over “illicit” invitations to several female students. Alan Bookbinder said that the group target “women they deem attractive, inducing them to drink in excess, and treating them in a misogynist and predatory way.”

In 2018, the Facebook page “Grudgebridge” posted hundreds of accounts of inappropriate behaviour perpetrated by drinking society members which included sexual misconduct, bullying and classism.

The allegations included claims that male members of drinking societies had confiscated the keys and phones of “attractive fresher girls” and another male member of a society said female students would be “going home in wheelchairs” after an event.

The Student Union president at the time said that Grudgebridge had caused a “seismic shift” in attitudes towards drinking societies at the University. She said: “It’s like the annoyance that has been bubbling up for years has erupted.”

Following the controversy, a third of drinking societies committed to creating a code of conduct, including Clare’s.

The Clare Rugby and Boating Society (CRABS) was one of the first drinking societies set-up in Cambridge. It was established in 1930 by Paul Mellon, an American undergraduate who came to Cambridge from Yale University.

After graduating Mellon became a successful banker, focusing his philanthropic activity on higher education. In 1957, Mellon was named as one of the eight richest Americans, in Fortune’s first list of the wealthiest Americans. Mellon was a major benefactor to the Forbes-Mellon library at Clare which opened in 1986.