Last year, it was revealed that the residents of St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney, who had formed a “Define Statutory” Facebook page that described itself as “pro-rape, anti-consent”. There was a lot of heat around it, and initially a lot of words and not a lot of action. Lauredhel and I wrote about it here last year (University colleges: nurturing a rape culture, More on St Paul’s College “Define Statutory” facebook page).
I’ve been meaning to find out what happened next for ages. Here’s what seems to have happened.
In February 2010, the University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence announced that the sexual harassment and discrimination policy was being extended to all student residences. (The colleges’ residents are almost always enrolled students of the University, but the colleges are independent institutions.):
[Spence] said his handling of the website scandal… had been hampered by the old policy, which excluded the legally independent colleges, leaving them free to conduct their own investigations without guarantees of an independent inquiry.
”It is fair to say our old harassment policy gave us no teeth as far as the colleges were concerned,” Dr Spence said. ”However, under the new system we definitively would be able to discipline those concerned.”
The vice-chancellor’s office has called for the residential colleges to review their sexual harassment and assault policies as well as student initiations and unofficial activities.
In an email on Tuesday [February 23], Dr Spence told all students that they ”had the right to be treated with dignity and respect, irrespective of their background, beliefs or culture”.
Heath Gilmore and Ruth Pollard, Sydney University expands sex-assault policy, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 25 2010
The new policy (dated 11 February) is here.
Ruth Pollard, who wrote the Herald‘s original stories, wrote in February that she regarded St Paul’s response as continuing to be highly unsatisfactory, especially in light of the administrations of the other colleges being willing to criticise their own culture:
We received another email from Dr [Ivan] Head [warden of St Paul’s], describing St Paul’s as ”one of the most exciting and stimulating places to live, brilliantly in the heart of the university, fully engaged with every aspect of student life, punching above its weight, moderated by wise and astute scholars”.
Oh yes, and all forms of sexual assault are abhorrent.
Since then, Dr Head says there has been an investigation which included ”interviews with the [Facebook] site administrator who is a former college resident, and a small number of current college residents who had agreed to become members of the site”, but he refused to release the results of the inquiry.
Ruth Pollard, Time to wake up: St Paul’s must stamp out its misogynist culture, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 25 2010
I am not surprised to find though, that there are reports that St Paul’s residents have closed ranks around their college:
First, some history. In 1977, a group of St Paul’s College students at Sydney University held an awards ceremony in which a student who raped a woman was applauded for committing “the animal act of the year”. Then last year St Paul’s made headlines again after a Herald journalist, Ruth Pollard, exposed a “Pro Rape/Anti Consent” Facebook group run by students at the college…
While the scandal has made the students more media cautious, it does not seem to have affected their attitudes towards women. Earlier this year, a number of St Paul’s students planned a musical dance revue number titled Always look on the bright side of rape. The number was canned for fear that it might invite media coverage.
In the end, the villain of the revue was called “Ruth Pollard” and students hissed, booed and threw objects when the character appeared…
Nina Funnell, Contrition trumps sexism cover-ups, The National Times, September 22 2010.
I can’t honestly think anything other than that it will be a long long time before college culture changes a lot. There will be a lot of social pressure on and additional harassment of students who attempt to go through the university’s procedures as outlined in their policy, just as there has been of students who have gone through the legal system in the past. College songs, folklore and culture will continue to very explicitly promote sexual harassment and assault. I will be interested to hear if the efforts of the administrations of some of the other colleges are serious, sustained and effective over the next few years.