Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is leading a cultural review. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen St Paul’s College at Sydney University. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
In a move destined to raise questions about its commitment to changing student behaviour, Australia’s oldest university college is refusing to participate in a university-wide cultural review led by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
The all-male St Paul’s College, where students still sit down to dinner every night in full academic dress, is the only residential college at the University of Sydney that is not co-operating with the university’s review of culture and behaviour at the residential colleges, triggered in May by student and Fairfax Media reports of sexual misbehaviour and “slut-shaming” across two of its oldest institutions.
St Paul’s Warden Dr Ivan Head said the college has instead “exercised its liberty as a self-governing body” to run its own confidential review of college life.
In May, reports revealed students at Wesley and St Andrew’s colleges were publicly shamed for their alleged sexual activities.
It followed widespread publicity in the US and Australia around the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment – much of it unreported – on campuses.
In 2009, students at St Paul’s set up a “pro-rape” Facebook page and in 2012 a female St John’s student was rushed to hospital after being forced by seniors to down a toxic cocktail of shampoo, sour milk, dog food, Tabasco sauce and alcohol.
Announcing the review in May, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence said: “These stories have been a thorn in our flesh. I do not want to see any more of them. The Chancellor and I have invited the heads of college councils to meet with Ms Broderick to see how we can address concerns that have been legitimately raised. I am sure they will co-operate.”
The colleges are independent from the university and cannot be compelled to comply with the Broderick review. The refusal by St Paul’s to participate is likely to set the college administration at loggerheads with the university.
The university administration was reportedly considering the “nuclear option” of disaffiliating with colleges or stripping them of their land if they did not take action to improve the situation.
Dr Head said: “The College Council notes that cultural review and cultural excellence are good ideas.
“Council has exercised its liberty as a self-governing body to pursue the same outcomes in its own way.
“College has thus engaged its own independent professional in the field of the quantitative and qualitative review of communities and workplaces and is completing a thorough review of core dimensions of College life from the student perspective.”
Dr Head said it was a “stretch” to speak of disaffiliation. He said the review by St Paul’s would not be made public.
A student committee was on Wednesday briefed on the progress of the Broderick review, which has so far involved seven focus groups with college students, meetings and briefings with the heads and chairs of a number of colleges.
The university said in a statement that Women’s College, Sancta Sophia College, Wesley College and St Andrew’s College were involved and St John’s College would commence working with Ms Broderick and her team in early 2017.
“The feedback to date indicates that the students have found the focus groups engaging and informative. They have appreciated the opportunity to share their views on cultural renewal and enrichment as well as describing the great strengths of college life,” a spokeswoman said.
Ms Broderick, who spent eight years as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner before becoming the United Nations Special Adviser for Gender Equality, declined to comment on the progress of the cultural review while it was ongoing.
The university spokeswoman said: “Ms Broderick and her team advise they have been impressed by the colleges’ openness and enthusiasm for the project and are confident about the long-term benefits of the process.”
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