SMH News, Sydney. Story by Pallavi Singhal – Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s review into the culture at Sydney University colleges is releasing its findings to the university and to individual colleges. Photo shows, Elizabeth Broderick launches the report. Photo: Peter Rae. Wednesday 29 November, 2017 SMH News, Sydney. Story by Pallavi Singhal – Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s review into the culture at Sydney University colleges is releasing its findings to the university and to individual colleges. Photo shows, Elizabeth Broderick, Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence and the head of the Women??????s College, Amanda Bell. . Photo: Peter Rae. Wednesday 29 November, 2017
As many as 32 per cent of women at University of Sydney colleges have experienced sexual harassment and 6 per cent of female college students have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault, with other college students making up the vast majority of perpetrators, a review of college culture has found.
The review, led by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, found that sexual misconduct, “hazing” and a problematic drinking culture persist at five of the university’s six residential colleges, a number of which have come under fire for repeated incidents of sexual misbehaviour by students.
More than 1000 students from Sydney University’s Sancta Sophia, St Andrew’s, St John’s, Wesley and Women’s colleges were surveyed by Ms Broderick’s team and more than 630 students were interviewed since October last year, with a 69 per cent participation rate across the five colleges.
Female students described experiences with sexualised attitudes and behaviours, often fuelled by alcohol, which made them feel unsafe or uncomfortable, with one saying she was left “feeling objectified, like a piece of meat on display”.
St Paul’s College, which initially refused to participate in the review but recently joined the process, is not included in the findings and will receive a separate report in June next year.
Female students from St Andrew’s College and Women’s College reported some of the highest rates of sexual harassment and actual or attempted sexual assault, with 32 per cent of students at Women’s College and 30 per cent of women at St Andrew’s College saying they have experienced sexual harassment since starting at college.
At both colleges, 8 per cent of women said they have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault.
“The data is compelling,” Ms Broderick said.
“Our evidence found that for women in particular, the college experience can be quite different to that of their male peers.
“This was evident across many data points including experiencing exclusion or isolation, pressure to drink alcohol, sexist remarks, the pressure to have sex or hook up to fit in, experiences of sexual harassment and of sexual assault.”
Across all five colleges, 25 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men said they have experienced sexual harassment and 6 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men said they have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault.
Of these, 96 per cent of students who experienced sexual harassment and 73 per cent of students who experienced sexual assault said a fellow student from their college or a different college was the perpetrator.
About 90 per cent of all incidents occurred on college grounds.
The review also found that only 9 per cent of college students who experienced sexual assault and 3 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment made a formal report.
About 31 per cent of those who experienced sexual assault and 49 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment did not seek any assistance, the review found, with common reasons including that students “didn’t think it was serious enough”, “did not think I needed help” or “thought I could sort it out myself”.
The review also found that 15 per cent of all college students reported that there was too much focus on drinking alcohol at their college and 13 per cent of students said they have been pressured to drink when they did not want to.
“Hazing” or college traditions that include bullying, intimidation and exclusion were also found to be a major issue in all colleges except Sancta Sophia, with 13 per cent of college students saying they had experienced hazing.
About 15 per cent of students at St John’s, at which a female student was hospitalised in 2012 after being pressured to drink a toxic cocktail of shampoo, alcohol, dog food, sour milk and Tabasco sauce during a hazing ritual, said they had experienced hazing.
St Andrew’s had the highest reported experiences, with 32 per cent of students saying they have experienced hazing.
The review’s 23 recommendations include reducing the supply of alcohol at college events, the prohibition of all hazing activities, renaming and altering orientation week or “O Week”, where the report found hazing and problematic drinking behaviour is rife, and developing common rules and policies across all the colleges.
It also recommended the adoption of improved policies that “expressly prohibit sexual misconduct” and clearer guidance for survivors and victims.
“Linked to these recommendations is a call for colleges, particularly those which are co-ed, to eradicate all elements of a hyper-masculine culture,” Ms Broderick said.
The review recommended that the co-educational colleges achieve gender balance in student leadership teams by mandating that 40 per cent of leaders are men, 40 per cent are women and 20 per cent are either.
The review also found that college students should be included more in the wider university environment, with 51 per cent of college students reporting that they feel “stigmatised by University of Sydney students and staff” because they are at a college.
It recommended that the survey be re-administered every three years.
The review’s recommendations have been accepted in full by all five colleges and the University of Sydney, which are aiming to implement all recommendations in the next two years, according to the university’s vice-chancellor Michael Spence.
Although the governance structures of the colleges, which have come under scrutiny recently with the introduction of legislation to overhaul and modernise St John’s College’s governance model, were not included in the scope of the review, Dr Spence said the university and the NSW government will continue to monitor the colleges.
“The Minister for Education [Rob Stokes] in NSW, who of course ultimately has responsibility for the governance of the colleges through state-based legislation, is also watching and has asked for regular reports on progress in the implementation of the recommendations and is certainly willing to intervene if governance becomes an issue,” Dr Spence said.
Principal of the Women’s College Amanda Bell, who was representing all five colleges at the launch of the review report, said an “apology is due” to students who have experienced sexual assault in a college setting.
“We acknowledge incidents have occurred in the past and today, individually and collectively, we commit to change,” Dr Bell said.
“No one should have to suffer sexual assault of any kind, ever, and retrospectively or currently, it doesn’t matter.
“So from my personal view, yes absolutely, it should not have happened and an apology is due. But in terms of formalising that, you would understand that there are certain processes we would like to go through.”
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