INSEAD has officially changed its student-run orientation, Welcome Week, after several MBA students filed complaints with the Comité National Contre le Bizutage (CNCB), or the French National Committee Against Hazing late last summer. Poets&Quants reported the story last July after an initial Financial Times report, and the result was a firestorm of comments for and against the orientation week, which was first launched in 1983. The announcement — and our reporting of it — hit a nerve among the INSEAD community. For the first time ever, Poets&Quants had to delete dozens of reader comments while redacting multiple names from the comment section.
The changes are detailed in a Feb. 13th email from INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov who had earlier decided to suspend the student-run orientation week after receiving a letter from the CNCB notifying the school the organization was beginning an investigation into the week after receiving complaints of hazing from several current students.
“At that time, we committed to cooperate fully with the CNCB to understand the nature of the complaint and what it means for the school in the long term,” Mihov wrote in the email obtained by Poets&Quants. “We also had to find different approaches to welcoming new students to the school.
“I am pleased to inform you of the latest developments,” Mihov added. “Our newest intake, the Class of MBA’19D, has just experienced the new student-led ‘Welcome Weekend,’ an innovative way to welcome new students to campus developed by the Class of MBA’19J. As the name suggests, the activities take place over a weekend and focus on building teams that work to overcome challenges together.”
NEW ‘WELCOME WEEKEND’ TO FOCUS ON INSEAD CORE VALUES
Now, the dean explains, students who choose to participate will be randomly assigned to one of six “houses.” The houses are modeled off of INSEAD’s core values. One house, for example, is dubbed “impacting the world.” Another will focus on “strong network, togetherness, and group success.” Houses will spend the weekend competing in such activities as an escape room, scavenger hunt, and trivia quiz. At the end of the weekend, the winning house will receive a trophy during a “party and ceremony.” The trophy will then be passed to the following year’s winning team.
“The CNCB has vetted and approved this new approach, and feedback received from both classes involved in the new Welcome Weekend is extremely positive,” Mihov said. “The random assignment of houses bonds the senior and incoming students, and the healthy competition is an opportunity to connect with our values.”
ONE FORMER STUDENT’S ACCOUNT OF THE PREVIOUS WELCOME WEEK
INSEAD’s Welcome Week was created by students with the intent to “puncture the inflated egos of new arrivals,” the FT reported last July. The basis of the alleged hazing involved coaxing incoming students to sign-up for non-existent clubs that would then subject incoming to grueling athletic and socially humiliating experiences or simply harmless pranks, depending on how it’s viewed.
One student, who reached out to Poets&Quants last summer under the condition of anonymity, complained more about the school’s lack of support for those who were bothered or even traumatized by the experience. “My gripe is not so much with Welcome Week itself, but how the administration and school leadership has treated those who didn’t deal well with Welcome Week,” the former student said at the time.
During the week, students could pick from one of seven faux clubs, but to be accepted, students had to complete the “try out” period. Radical Souls, one of the seven clubs, “focused on extreme sports like rock climbing, running in the cold forest, (and) cliff jumping,” according to a file of club descriptions obtained by Poets&Quants last fall.
“You are expected to train and work out on a daily basis (if not 2-3 times every day) and not be afraid of extreme sports,” the description reads. “They are brave and not afraid to take risks. They like to see how much their body can take. They have great stamina and endurance. They also get a thrill from achieving hardcore/extreme sports objectives (e.g. mounting Kilimanjaro, traveling around the world to complete 42-kilometer marathons). Life without exercising isn’t worth living.”
According to the former student, at one point, those trying out to the club were asked to meet in the Forest of Fontainebleau, a 110-square-mile national forest that borders INSEAD’s campus and is comprised of a massive maze-like network of trails with few distinguishing features. “I ran for hours. I climbed for hours,” the former student told P&Q, describing a scene more akin to a fraternity initiation than a club at a prestigious business school. “The club leaders would scream in our ears, calling us fat Renaissance rejects.”
The Raffles/Renaissance Club was yet another faux club that supposedly “builds and preserves an image of excellence for our institution through a strong network of like-minded alumni who occupy influential positions in business and politics worldwide.” It wasn’t until “The Big Reveal” at the end of the week that students were made aware that their efforts of making one of the seven faux clubs were all in vain.
TOUGHEN UP, SAY SOME STUDENTS
On the other hand, many other students shared one message for those complaining about the week: toughen up.
“We must recognize that sadistic elitists would have contributed to the formal complaints,” one 2012 INSEAD alum wrote to Poets&Quants last summer. “And those societal outliers are beyond reform.
“The power and relevance of WW for the majority became clear to me when one such outlier from the incoming promotion suggested a real club after the reveal and wasn’t taken seriously. Without a vivid demo upfront, the majority wouldn’t have known how to respond in a new environment.”
Another former student wrote that he and many of his classmates wouldn’t have had the same experience at INSEAD without Welcome Week and the initiation that goes with it. “Our culture is about being conscious of others and the impact our actions have on them,” he wrote. “The WW is an effective way to get students to think more about others instead of their own narrow ambitions. Also, it is fun and a great way to bond.”
INSEAD has yet to respond to a request for comment from Poets&Quants.