The right reason to hate college

Issues of sexism aside, it’s the inequality embraced by the colleges that we should condemn the loudest. A former colleges student explains why she is angry

St Andrew's College

It’s an unspoken rule around these parts: if you’re not a resident at a college, you hate colleges. In some ways, this is fair enough, there is a lot to hate about them. Incessant binge drinking, a pervasive rape culture, and institutionalised sexism combine to create an archaic set of social norms that anyone would find repulsive.

But in this way, colleges are essentially a microcosm of contemporary Australia, and I can’t hate them for that.  It’s not just college students who binge drink—the issue is writ large across the country and indeed throughout much of the Western world. Rape culture isn’t confined to colleges—every day I see new examples of victim blaming, slut shaming, and rape being trivialised and naturalised via jokes, the media, and popular culture. And don’t even get me started on institutionalised sexism—see the gender wage gap, the underrepresentation of women in management and on company boards, and national investment in childcare, if you’re not already aware of the epidemic nature of this malady.

To hate the colleges for mirroring everything around them is not particularly productive. What I can hate, what I do hate, and what I think people everywhere should be hating about colleges is something completely different, and something that doesn’t get enough attention.

St Andrew's College
St Andrew’s College

I went to a college. I had a great time. I made fantastic friends and memories. But at my college there were people whose parents lived in Mosman who had their university fees paid upfront. These students lived side by side with others who worked 60 hours a week over the summer so that they could move from their small country town and become the first person in their family to attend university. In fact, from what I saw, wealthy Sydneysiders outnumber less privileged students from rural, regional, or interstate areas by at least 2 to 1. That is what I hate, and that is worth hating.

A number of factors contribute to this terrible inequity. Firstly, the selection criterion for colleges is biased towards the wealthy and privileged. Applicants are asked to list their co-curricular activities and educational background, as well as provide school reports and eventually ATARs. This is all well and good for north shore private school graduates who have had access to incredible sporting facilities, rich cultural experiences, and top notch educators, but what about the kids from a rural state high school? What happens if they can’t list rowing, cultural exchange, and flute ensemble on their applications because their school didn’t offer those opportunities?

Then there’s the legacy bias. If a relative of yours attended a USyd college, you are almost guaranteed a place at that college. And hey, if that relative happened to donate a bunch of money to the institution, then you might find yourself on the receiving end of a nice little Alumni Scholarship. Bad luck for those students whose parents left school after Year 10.And of course, most importantly, most outrageously, there are the fees. A year (actually around 30 weeks) at a college will set you back between $16 000 and $19 000, a needlessly prohibitive price tag. Students at St Andrew’s College have their rooms cleaned for them on a weekly basis; St Paul’s College had a ferris wheel at their formal last year; Women’s College have different wines selected each week to complement their formal dinners. USyd college residents live a life of excess and extravagance, and it is this extravagance that inflates the cost of college until it is well out of the realm of the affordable.

I left college because I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t believe in the inequity and the inaccessibility, and I hated that I was part of it. I want to see a college system based on need, not wealth and lineage. I want to see fewer ferris wheels and more scholarships. I want to see a more multicultural mix of residents. Above all, I don’t want any more kids to have to work 60-hour weeks in order to get a tertiary education while others just sit back and watch Mum and Dad sign the cheque.