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St John’s College withholds review into claims of hazing and sexual assault from public

The College also appears to have altered its story regarding its prior knowledge of hazing incidents

Quad, St John's College

St John’s College has not publicly released its independent review into incidents of hazing and sexual assault outlined in the Red Zone Report.

This month, the College released a publication on its website titled ‘Cultural Renewal at St John’s – Ready for 2019’. In it, the College alleges that it is unable to release its independent review due to concerns of breaching the confidentiality of those involved. However, reviews of this nature, such as the Broderick Review into residential college culture, often de-identify data in order to promote transparency without breaching confidentiality.

The review, which Honi understands as solely concerning incidents relevant to St John’s College, is unavailable on its website. At the time of publishing, the College had not responded to Honi’s request for comment.

Nor was a representative of the University able to confirm to Honi that they had received the report. This is despite the fact that some recommendations of the Broderick Review specifically encourage the University and colleges to work more closely together.

In an email sent to its residents during O-Week this year, St John’s College announced that it would be conducting a formal investigation into the allegations put forward in the Red Zone Report. The College also asserted in the email that “some of the matters referred to in the report are ‘one-off’ isolated incidents.”

However, in February, authors of the Red Zone Report obtained evidence that a hazing ritual called ‘The Purge’, where students are pressured to post sexually explicit photos of each other on their private Facebook group, occurred both in 2016 and in November of 2017—the same month in which the Broderick Review was released. The College’s initial public statement in relation to the Red Zone Report, also made in February, has since disappeared from its website.

The aforementioned ‘Cultural Renewal at St John’s’ publication also notes that “many of the incidents alleged [in the Red Zone Report] and covered in the media at the time were already known to the College and had previously been the subject of internal examination and response.”

If this is the case, the necessity of a clandestine, ten-month long independent investigation remains unclear.

In the process of conducting their internal investigation, legal personnel representing St John’s College reached out to the co-author of the Red Zone Report, Nina Funnell, on July 19th, 2018. They requested, among other things, that Funnell provide them with the details of sources she used when compiling the Red Zone Report. She did not oblige.

Funnell argues that the College chose to conduct its independent review in order to discredit the findings of the Red Zone Report. Ironically, the Red Zone Report news campaign was a finalist in the 2018 ‘Walkley Our Watch’ awards for ‘Best Journalism Campaign of the Year.’

Funnell told Honi, “In writing the report, I applied the same approach that I do to writing any article: I fact-checked, verified sources, and had witnesses corroborating evidence. I have always stood by that work. But I believe that when [St. John’s College] announced their inquiry, they were hoping to poke holes in it. They haven’t found any evidence to do so, and so they’ve decided to pivot and claim that they were aware of the incidents all along.”

“Instead of saying that the incidents occurred in isolation, they’ve taken on a new line of damage control.”

The timing of the review’s release—or lack thereof—is notable. The University enters its annual holiday “shutdown” period as of today, and most students have vacated the campus until the new year. The state of USyd’s main activist body, the Student’s Representative Council, is in disarray, and the fate of its Wom*n’s Collective, which has been critical in agitating against hazing and sexual assault within colleges, hangs in the balance.

More to come.