Sydney University colleges: after “Define Statutory”

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.

Categories: education, gender & feminism, violence

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7 replies

  1. It’s mind boggling that there are people in society who are so low on the evolutionary ladder.
    There [ableist slur redacted] make life for both genders a nightmare.
    I know naming and shaming is [heteronormativist slur redacted], but if we could get these [ableist slur redacted] and name them, then maybe they could feel guilt, especially when their families find out about their behaviour.
    Thank you for the article
    [Moderator note: please take more care when choosing insults to avoid Othering already marginalised groups]

  2. Thanks for chasing this up. The entitlement, it boggles.

  3. I read Nina Funnell’s article in The Age online when it was published and the comments were quite astounding. Several people from St Paul’s or who had previously been at St Paul’s backed the college saying that everyone had gotten it all wrong and that clearly Nina had nothing better to do than attempt to dig up dirt on the college. An attempt to silence her, and in response Nina actually posted in the comments of the article providing more information about what she’d done to investigate the current climate.
    Women from Sydney University posted stating that they agreed with Nina’s assessment of the culture and that they had either been assaulted or harassed by members of St Paul’s college.
    Perhaps the best thing would be to disband the college and start again.

  4. Thanks for chasing this up, it’s been bothering me that I didn’t know what came of this. It’s infuriating but predictable, of course, that nothing at all seems to have come of it. Is there any forum in which the public (i.e., us) could bring pressure to bear to have the college warden release the results of their “internal investigation”?

  5. I am certainly not enough of an insider to know what would be helpful, and St Paul’s is essentially a finishing school for boys from elite private schools, so I assume they have a lot of people telling them they’re doing the right thing.
    I think the other colleges, sadly, are far more vulnerable to bad publicity, it’s undoubtedly not a coincidence that they’ve been more willing to criticise themselves. Certainly the two Catholic colleges (St John’s and Sancta), Wesley, and I think St Andrew’s too, perhaps not so much Women’s, partly rely on middle class rural and regional families to fill up their rooms. So they have a lot of first generation college students whose parents are far more invested in them being happy and finishing their degree than they are in “the college experience” and (finishing) forming a network at college.
    In fact, although I know nothing about this tendency at St Paul’s in particular, in general the Old Colls associations, ie, the active ex-students, tend to be much less willing to change anything about the college than the administrations are. The current students are often fairly conservative in this sense too, because the students who hate it leave and don’t donate or join alumni groups. At Sancta first year students weren’t even given a vote in the student body organisation, as of 1999. So you can be sure that only the students who like college exactly how it is are active in the matter. That said, some of their alumni really shouldn’t be pleased with this.
    My guess would be that pressure from the University, the Anglican Church and the alumni would be strongest. The University doesn’t have much legal power except to do what their policy says they are trying to do: discipline the students for their college actions in the context of their university enrolment, but it can’t be good for Paul’s if the University is constantly trying to distance itself from the institution and its students. The Anglican Church wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of its college being famed for debauchery and cruelty, I wouldn’t have thought, although given how conservative the Church is in Sydney I am not sure how much outsiders can influence them. I think it’s despicable that more of the alumni aren’t speaking up.

  6. A gay US resident of Rutgers university college has committed suicide after his two charming co-dorm-mates, Molly Wei and Dharun Ravi, filmed him without his consent in a sexual act with his lover and posted it on the net.
    I just don’t know when the homophobia and sexism at universities is going to end. At least things seem to have changed just enough that these two may be charged and face a jail sentence – not clear on the details.

  7. According to the st paul’s website these arseholes were allowed help run a White Ribbon event this year. Big of them.

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