It’s orientation week at the University of São Paulo (here, the school year starts in March, which is the fall) and it’s quite easy to identify the freshmen on campus. Not because they’re wandering around clutching their books and asking where the dining hall is… but because they’re the ones completely covered in random splotches of colored paint.
Yep, you heard correctly. It’s tradition for the upperclassmen to put the freshmen through various forms of torture, called trotes. Since in Brazil’s university system you go directly into a major when you enter college, each major acts like a fraternity and hazes its newbies. Although I’ve seen signs around campus that say, “Attention freshmen – if someone tries to force you to do something, report them by calling this telephone number,” I hear through the grapevine that refusing to take part in the trote is akin to social suicide.
The freshmen are called “bichos” – translates to “animals,” “beasts,” or “pets” – and the upperclassmen walk around with jars of paint and use the bichos as their canvasses. The male freshmen also usually get their heads shaved. Sometimes the bichos are “kidnapped” and forced to do an upperclassman’s cooking, cleaning, and laundry for a week. Another tradition is to throw a party and make up a nauseating mixture of various fruit juices, beer, milk, and who knows what else; each bicho has to stand up and introduce themselves, then drink a cup of the caldo (stew).
I’ve heard stories of more humiliating trotes at other campuses: upperclassmen making the bichos play a nude soccer game or parade in front of a panel of judges who rate their looks. Here at the USP, the trotes seem relatively tame… I had to laugh when I saw two bichos who had been duct-taped together back to back trying to descend a flight of stairs.
Unfortunately, nasty things do occasionally happen during trotes – one case that received national attention here was that of a guy who got concentrated potassium permanganate (a solution with a deep purple coloration) thrown on him, and the chemical ended up burning his skin really badly.
According to Sara, most trotes are usually all in good fun and don’t hurt anyone. Some are things like scavenger hunts and obstacle courses. There are even trotes that help the community: challenging the bichos to collect food, clothing, and resources that will be donated to families in need.