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St Andrew’s College residents hold parties while Sydney locks down

The allegations follow a pattern of private schools and colleges being afforded greater freedoms under lockdown restrictions.

Residents at St Andrew’s College are regularly hosting parties of ten to fifteen people inside College bedrooms, multiple sources have alleged to Honi.

Recent gatherings include ‘Olympics viewing parties’ inside College bedrooms and an outdoor 21st birthday which attracted up to thirty attendees.

“There’s a party every two or three days,” one resident said. “People are getting really, really drunk at these events, and there is a lot of vomiting.”

A post made by the student head of the College in a private Facebook group.

Gatherings of such nature would normally be prohibited under current COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but because the College as a whole is a ‘place of residence,’ they are permitted under the law.

This follows news that one of the residents of the College was a close contact of the staff member in the School of Chemistry who tested positive for COVID-19. The resident received a negative result.

While the parties are in violation of the College’s internal policies, which include capacity limits in rooms, common areas and college facilities, residents say these restrictions aren’t being properly enforced.

“There are obviously people who show a degree of respect for the rules but a lot of them are being ignored, which is generally the College’s attitude to COVID,” one resident said. “Security really doesn’t care. They might ask people to turn down the music but that’s it.”

When questioned, a spokesperson said the College was only aware of one “allegation of a breach of college policy inside a room,” but stressed it was “not a breach of the relevant public health orders.”

“[We] conducted an investigation, but could not establish the identity of students responsible for the alleged breach,” the spokesperson said.

Honi’s sources stressed that the partying was not limited to one college, with one Women’s College resident saying she heard a “loud party during the first week of lockdown” and believed there was “intermingling between the colleges.”

While the College has asked its residents to make a choice between their College residence and their family home, multiple sources have alleged that students are moving back and forth freely.

In a private Facebook group, the student head of the College remarked that restrictions on non-essential travel to and from residents’ family homes was “stupid”, later editing the post to remove the comment.

A post listing College rules in the private Facebook group.

“People are walking around and partying in massive groups without the staff knowing then going back into the community,” said one resident. “We are not above the global pandemic and this is outright dangerous.”

College hosts in-person ‘networking’ event 

Honi understands that a number of the residents who returned to their family homes at the start of lockdown recently returned for a three-week, in-person “Certificate of Cross-Disciplinary Problem Solving” course offered by the College.

Although a negative COVID result is required to return to College, sources have said that “no one is checking.”

One resident described the course as a “networking event” and “resumé padder” delivered by external businesspeople from consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company. They noted that alcohol was being served in the evening, with course participants getting “completely smashed” on one occasion.

The College spokesperson asserted that the course fell within the parameters of public health orders, as the College is also considered an “education institution.” 

They said that they had considered the risks created by the program, including the transmission of the Delta variant of COVID, but decided that the course was ultimately in the “public interest.”

“The course aims to equip students with the skills needed to solve problems that matter, such as how to eliminate poverty in remote Zimbabwean communities.”

“Many of the activities — which include building prosthetic hands for landmine victims and intimate group projects — could not be conducted remotely.”

The spokesperson denied that there were any “purely social” events: “‘Cocktail nights’ initially scheduled (prior to the recent COVID-19 outbreak) were substituted for seated educational gatherings designed to introduce students to faculty members.”

They assured that risk-mitigation measures were in place to prevent transmission of COVID, including course participants being isolated from the rest of the community, eating meals at different times and using separate bathrooms.

“The college is refusing to lose money”

The College’s current approach to the lockdown is markedly different to last year, where residents were asked to live in their family homes except for a small number of people who faced exceptional circumstances.

Additionally, more than thirty St Andrew’s residents were suspended for a week during last year’s lockdown for breaching COVID rules, with one student suspended for four weeks.

When asked whether the College was considering implementing similar measures this year, the College spokesperson said that the situation in 2020 was “different.” 

“We are now aware that during the 2020 lockdown, many of our students struggled with issues such as internet access and mental health challenges. Such factors adversely affected their educational experience.”

One resident suggested that the College’s reluctance to shut down or suspend its students this time is due to a vocal contingent of parents last year who wanted their children to have the complete ‘college experience.’

“A lot of parents who were residents back when St Andrew’s was still an all-boys college believe that College is meant to be rowdy. It’s meant to be the best time of their [children’s] lives.”

“The college is refusing to lose money,” another resident speculated. “[It] is acting like a business rather than doing what is right in this global pandemic.”

A pattern of privilege emerges

The allegations follow a pattern of private schools and University colleges being afforded greater freedoms under lockdown restrictions, as well as early access to vaccines. 

With South-West Sydney residents facing far stricter lockdown conditions and policing, conversations have been sparked about how classism is determining the differing experiences of the current COVID outbreak in Sydney.

Last month, private school students at Scots College received approval from NSW Health for Year 9 students to travel to a six-month outdoor education program, described as a “rite of passage into manhood.”

Additionally, an “error” last month resulted in 163 Year 12 students at St Joseph’s College receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Similarly, students living in residential colleges at the University of New South Wales were offered exclusive early access to the Pfizer vaccine.

“People in government housing blocks in places like South-West Sydney are being patrolled by riot police, having every move watched and policed, whilst a blind eye is turned to the residential colleges,” SRC Women’s Officers Kimmy Dibben and Amelia Mertha said.

“We know that sexual violence is rife within the colleges, especially at their parties, and one can only assume that rates are worsening with survivors even more cut off from their community in lockdown, and a long history of excusing perpetrators.”

In 2020, Honi revealed new allegations about behaviour at St Andrew’s College which included sexual assault, defecation in common areas and bedrooms, the auctioning of students as part of a hazing ritual and “white power” graffitied on a memorial to a deceased College student.

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