An investigation into the culture of St. Paul’s, led by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, has revealed a history of sexist traditions at the University of Sydney’s oldest, all-male residential college, as well as the college’s recent attempts to rid itself of this reputation.
Broderick’s report on the college, released on Friday, confirms the existence of several “dangerous and demeaning” practices. Notably, it describes the ‘Bone Room’ ritual, which Honi reported on in 2016. Until 2017, Paul’s students celebrated victories by inviting female students, often first years, to a room lined with mattresses to binge drink and have sex.
Similarly, it details the ‘Fire Pit’ ritual, the “practice of chanting sexist and racist verses around a fire pit” on Valedictory nights.
In addition to sexist traditions, it also exposes disturbing hazing rituals, such as forcing first years to eat sheep hearts, and a game where older students ‘auction off’ first years.
The report notes that St Paul’s has stamped out the ‘Bone Room’, the ‘Fire Pit’ and many OWeek hazing rituals, due to “increased external scrutiny”, “a change in staff leadership” and the leadership of Senior Student Barney Archibald and his Student Club Committee. It also notes that some Paul’s first years have complained about the lack of hazing in 2018.
As part of its governance overhaul, St Paul’s appointed Dr Don Markwell as the new warden of the college in February 2018, and will strengthen the warden’s powers to suspend and expel students.
Markwell told the ABC that the “Broderick Report shows that, while there is much for the College to be very proud of, including considerable progress in many areas, there are also aspects to be ashamed of. For these matters, we are deeply sorry.”
Earlier this week, Dr Markwell told Honi that St Paul’s “will implement all the recommendations of [the review].”
“I think [it] will show our deep commitment to be leaders in fighting against sexism [and] sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
The investigation into St Paul’s is the follow-up to the review of USyd’s six residential colleges in November last year. The St Paul’s report has been released later than the individual reports for the other colleges because Paul’s initially refused to participate.
Broderick’s latest report draws on work by End Rape on Campus Australia (EROC) to explain the origins of the college’s reputation for misogyny. In 1977, St Paul’s students gave the “Animal Act of the Year” award to four men accused of gang raping a Women’s College student. In 2009, students and alumni associated with the college created the Facebook group, “Define statutory: pro-rape, anti-consent”. Just last year, a Paul’s student made a Facebook post comparing sex with a woman to “harpooning a whale.”
Together, the Paul’s report and the original Broderick review outline the difference between experiences of sexual harassment and assault amongst college students and the USyd’s general population. According to 2016 data from the Australian Human Rights Commission, 25 per cent of USyd students had experienced sexual harassment and 2.5 per cent of students had experienced sexual assault on campus. In comparison, the Broderick review found that amongst all college students: 10 per cent of respondents had experienced sexist remarks, 19 per cent had experienced sexual harassment, and 4 per cent had experienced attempted or actual sexual assault at uni.
The reports also highlight the difference between the male and female experience of college. Only 5 per cent of St Paul’s students reported sexual harassment and no students reported attempted or actual sexual assault. In contrast, 25 per cent of women across all residential colleges, and up to 32 per cent at Women’s College, had experienced sexual harassment.
In a joint media release, USyd’s SRC and EROC said that “we are relieved to learn that the college has formally apologised to victims, past and present” but ultimately condemned the report, calling it “whitewashed” and “lukewarm”.
“‘We remain skeptical and critical of what is, once again, seemingly a glossy piece of promotional material for one of the most notoriously misogynistic residential colleges,” Jessica Syed, co-Women’s Officer at the SRC, stated in the media release.
Syed’s comments come in light of EROC’s investigation into the methodology of the cross-college Broderick review. In December 2017, advocacy groups slammed the decision to rely on data from discussion groups rather than individual interviews, arguing that a group setting would dissuade survivors of sexual assault from coming forward. Documents obtained by EROC under Freedom of Information laws revealed that Broderick’s team only conducted 35 of 120 proposed individual interviews. They principally gathered data from 43 focus groups, with an average of 13 students per group.
EROC director Anna Hush told Honi that the methodology of the Paul’s report is better than that of the cross-college report, although Broderick’s team still relied on focus groups, with 84 per cent of students providing quotes in a group setting.
“The questions used in the survey to gauge students’ experiences of sexual assault do not align with best-practice research methodology,” she added. “Instead of asking behavioural questions, which research shows produce the most accurate data about respondents’ experiences, the survey simply asked, ‘Have you experienced sexual assault since starting at [college]?’”
Hush is skeptical of the claim that some entrenched practices, like hazing rituals, have ceased completely.
“Given the evidence in [EROC’s] Red Zone Report, as well as some of the issues discussed in the Broderick report, of events occurring very recently, we believe that it is naive to accept that these traditions have been eliminated so quickly.”
EROC remains concerned that the social and economic power of the colleges shields them from scrutiny, and the SRC is still calling for the colleges to be abolished.
“The degree to which the colleges can be reformed is limited,” Madeline Ward, co-Women’s Officer, told Honi. “They represent massive amounts of wealth privilege and inequality…The eventual dismantling of the colleges and replacement with affordable and free housing for the students that need it most remains our long-term goal.”