This afternoon, student activists gathered outside of the Quadrangle before marching to F23 to condemn the inaction of University management in response to the proliferation of sexual assault across campus and the colleges. The action, organised by the Women’s Collective and chaired by Women’s Officers Kimberley Dibben and Amelia Mertha, was organised during Welcome Week in order to call attention to the fact that 1 in 8 of all instances of sexual violence at university campuses across Australia occur during Orientation Weeks.
Dibben provided an Acknowledgement of Country, noting the connection between carceral politics and sexual violence and the need for prison abolition. Mertha followed by calling for the abolition of the colleges.
“Report after report recites that colleges are beyond reform. Misogyny is built into its [sic] sandstone walls, and it is the fragile reputations of soon-to-be politicians, businessmen, and lawyers who are valued over those they assault. College students are eight times more likely to be assaulted than non-college students. Survivors need action, not excuses. Abolish the colleges now!”
Mehreen Faruqi, Greens Senator for NSW, called for justice for Brittany Higgins and all current and future survivors of sexual assault and urged action rather than just words from fellow politicians. Brittany Higgins is the former political staffer who alleges she was raped in a government minister’s office by a male workmate in March 2019. Jenny Leong, NSW Greens Member for Newtown, announced she was writing a bill to legislate enthusiastic consent as a requirement in all sexual activity.
“A large part of our collective work centres on fighting for reproductive justice which includes broadening and deepening the scope of bodily autonomy taught in sex education,” said Mertha. “WoCo recognises that sex education is a health issue and that there is a severe lack of effective consent education in school curriculums, as highlighted by the petition started by Kambala alumni Chanel Contos last month.” That petition includes more than 3,000 testimonies of sexual violence by women largely from private schools and has more than 22,000 signatures.
After a short march to F23, Mertha read out a statement from Education Officer Tom Williams, former resident of St Pauls College, describing his own experience with hazing at the college and the culture of sexual assault among wealthy college students.
This rally is one in a long history of student activists, particularly members of the USyd Women’s Collective, campaigning to end sexual violence on university campuses.