Sydney University employs a new weapon in the fight against ugly college cultures
May 21, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
One of Australia’s top universities has hired a sex discrimination expert to clean up the cultures of its oldest residential colleges.
The University of Sydney has enlisted former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to lead a new anti-discrimination task force in the wake of damning media reports spanning many years about the behaviour of students at the elite colleges.
The Sydney Morning Herald broke a story last week that student leaders at Wesley and St Andrew's colleges were publicly ‘slut-shaming’ students who they claimed had slept with the most people.
It is the latest in a long line of incidents which have revealed a culture of misogyny and degradation at the oldest of the university’s colleges over the past decade - all of which boast alumni groups featuring top lawyers, politicians and business people.
The four offending colleges, Wesley, St Andrew’s, St Paul’s and St John’s, are run by independent councils which the university has no power to discipline unless through extreme measures.
Previous attempts by the university to clean up the college culture has met with strong resistance from those councils, which are supported by alumni members keen to see them continue as they are.
One recent incident involved Wesley College leaders encouraging alcohol-driven visits to a brothel.
Another saw Facebook posts from a senior tutor at St Andrew's last week encouraging students to undertake a "Bachelor of Inebriation" through which they consumed 15 drinks at various venues while vomiting on "chunder markers" and being prevented from urinating. "Soiling oneself, whilst generally dissuaded, is an acceptable form of excretion to sustain an honours proposal," the posts state.
In 2012, a female St John’s student was rushed to hospital with a bleeding stomach after being pressured to down a cocktail of shampoo, sour milk, dog food, Tabasco sauce and alcohol. So called ‘whistleblower’ students who attempted to reveal details of the college’s culture were threatened with violence.
And in 2009, students at St Paul's set up a "pro-rape", “anti-consent” facebook page.
University vice-chancellor Michael Spence says he is determined to clean up the culture of the colleges in an effort to prevent damage to the university’s reputation - USYD makes some $600m per year through international enrolments.
"These stories have been a thorn in our flesh, I do not want to see any more of them”, he said.
“The Chancellor and I have invited the heads of college councils to meet with Ms Broderick to see how we can address concerns that have been legitimately raised.
“I am sure they will co-operate."
Ms Broderick led four investigations into gender discrimination in the Australian Defence Force and spent eight years as Australia's sex discrimination commissioner before joining the United Nations as Special Adviser for Gender Equality.
Fairfax Media reports the university is considering radical measures such as stripping the colleges of land if they fail to cooperate with its investigations and forcing colleges to publish student welfare reports outlining inappropriate incidents on their websites.
The university, which also recently set up a task force to combat cheating by students, is thought to be considering introducing a mandatory first-year citizenship course outlining appropriate student behaviour.
It has set up a new complaints portal where students can lodge their concerns.