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WoCo protests outside St Andrew’s, calls for affordable student housing in place of residential colleges

The protest follows an investigation by Honi which revealed new instances of sexism, racism and hazing at the College.

Organised by the University of Sydney Women’s Collective (WoCo), around 80 people protested outside St Andrew’s College today following an Honi Soit investigation which exposed new instances of sexism, racism and hazing at the College post Broderick Review.

The protest emphasised that whilst the allegations are new, a culture of sexism, racism and hazing has been embedded within the residential colleges for decades. In light of this, speakers called for the repurposing of the colleges into affordable housing for students in need.

SRC Women’s Officers Vivienne Guo and Ellie Wilson told Honi:  “The elite residential colleges have never changed or improved, they have only gotten better at hiding the violence under the surface,” underscoring how their “attempts at reform have always been inadequate and unsuccessful.”

Katie Thorburn, 2017 Women’s Officer and ex-college student, spoke first at the event. She highlighted the lack of tangible change after three separate reports exposing cultures of hazing and sexual assault within Australian colleges and universites were published in 2017 and 2018, these being the Change the Course report, the Red Zone report and the Broderick Review. She also emphasised the high cost of entry for these colleges at $36,000 per year as opposed to the average $20,000 that most full-time students earn. 

Next, Federal Senator and Greens Education Spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi connected the need to dismantle the colleges with the housing crisis exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis. 

“The crisis has laid bare the problems in many areas, but especially housing. It is easier for someone to buy their fifth investment property than their first home. Everyone deserves to have a roof over their heads at all times – housing isn’t a market, it’s a human right.”

Faruqi also echoed the sentiment shared by the organisers and other speakers at the protest, stating “I wish I could stand here and say I was shocked. I’m not even surprised. We don’t have to dig very deep to find that the same patterns [of behaviour] have been happening over generations.”

Senior Lecturer in History at USyd and NTEU member David Brophy recounted his own experiences with sexism in his time at Ormond College at  the University of Melbourne, relaying how difficult it was to make any tangible change to misogynistic and racist college culture: “We were told that singing sexist songs was tradition, as if this was any defence.”

Finally, current Honi editor and 2018 Women’s Officer Madeline Ward spoke to the historical importance of Honi as a publication in revealing these instances of behaviour at the colleges and pressuring for reform.

At the conclusion of the rally, Guo and Wilson expressed their hopes that the recent revelations and today’s rally would spur larger action at both a University and State level in dismantling and converting the colleges to affordable student accommodation.