In the last two years USyd colleges have been the focus of increasing scrutiny from both the media and the university itself. While colleges have generally remained silent in the wake of criticism, this year saw them take an active stand against voices of dissent. Rather than hiding in their sandstone castles, college students mobilised and even braved rain and stupol hacks to exercise their democratic right. The large turnout in the recent Honi Soit election can be attributed to a perception amongst college students that the university is in some way out to get them.
The apex of this perceived hatred believed to be common in stupol and perpetuated by Honi is symptomatic of a failure to engage effectively with college. For those that believe that colleges face institutional problems, this failure is likely to mean an inability to move forward.
Attitudes that suggest college students should ‘check their privilege’ or indict residents of being complicit in ‘toxic culture’ ultimately marginalise colleges from engaging in conversation with the broader university. Rhetoric that all college students are ‘dudebros’ creates an ‘Us vs. Them’ gulf, which militates against those wishing to spark cultural renewal within residential colleges. Frequent broad-brush criticism about college and its residents means that serious issues will not be addressed because of the perception that all criticism can simply be attributed to platitudes or ‘college bashing’. If there is indeed a genuine institutional crisis then the only way it can be solved is by involving students within college.
Where does this leave us? By marginalising college students we also marginalise individuals capable of leading renewal in their communities.
While external pressure mounts on college, it is important to empower and engage with individuals within the institutions. Programmes setup internally to spark conversations on consent, sexual harassment and encourage students to ‘become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities’¹ are likely to be far more effective than categorising college students as ‘dudebros’ or as tacit supporters of sexual assault.
This is not to say that publications like Honi should play no role in discussions of cultural renewal at college, but if they are to do so it must be in a way that is constructive and does not debase all residents by virtue of where they live. Residents of college, like any subsection in society represent diverse viewpoints. Do some people at college fit ‘dudebro’ stereotypes? Of course, but in moving forward it is incumbent on those wishing to start dialogue to engage with those who do not fit this stereotype. The recent TIME campaign in many ways was the embodiment of discussion surrounding colleges.
Whether apparent or real, a gulf between “college students” and “university students” is not conducive to renewal and progress. Let’s not demonise and exclude people that go to college, but rather work with them to achieve shared goals.
¹See Alistair Kitchen’s ‘Good Lad’ Initiative