Home | News | St Paul’s promises to shed sexism, minimise sexual harassment and assault
Lucy McDonald, senior student of the Women’s College, and St Paul’s College senior student, Barney Archibald, at The Women’s College. Photo: St Paul's College, via Facebook

St Paul’s promises to shed sexism, minimise sexual harassment and assault

As an 18-year-old, I dated a boy who lived at St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney. There was a girl who attended neighbouring The Women’s College – lets call her Freda – who was treated akin to the Puberty Blues character of the same name. The St Paul’s boys referred to her as a ‘bicycle’ and contemptuously recounted how many of them she had slept with.

This is an example of the kind of behaviours that the College has promised to stamp out, following its receipt of a report about its culture on Friday.

The ‘cultural review‘, commissioned by the College in November 2017 after it failed to be one of the original commissioning USYD Colleges, followed a finding in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual harassment and assault on campus: ‘residential settings’ was one of four “recurring themes in incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred in university settings”.

Review author, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, noted that “the vast majority of students feel respected by their peers and have a strong sense of safety at their College.

“Some students however experience behaviours that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. For some, particularly female students, experiences such as sexual harassment by other students and for a few, sexual assault, create significant distress and trauma.”

Paul’s boys talk about women behind their backs – everything from female objectification (‘slut’) to making fun of their physical physique (‘whale’). [Female Residential College student]

It’s their Sals [The Salisbury – St Paul’s’ on-site bar]. It’s their turf. Girls that made friends with freshers know people, but others don’t, and you go [and] dance and get felt up. [Female Residential College student]

To this end, Broderick found that although egregious practices like the ‘bone room‘ purportedly no longer occur, the College could and should do better.

Some St Paul’s students added nuance to the discussion:

Talk about being ‘playboys’, I am friends with many [College] girls and have had close talks with them, and they keep talking about how they play with the guys’ feelings, trick them into sporadic sex just to fill their needs and desire to be in a position of power. The landscape has shifted, and it’s genuinely the sub-par all-girls environment that is doing more of this ‘hit and run’ damage… [St Paul’s College student]

We, the boys, always get blamed for sexual harassment or assault. When the girls wake up regretting what they did, it’s always our fault. This has got to stop. [St Paul’s College student]

In addition to sexual crimes and misdemeanours the report also addressed allegations of elitism, alcohol abuse and hazing.

On behalf of the College, Warden Dr Don Markwell, whose tensure commenced this year, apologised for prior transgressions. St Paul’s, which will admit women from next year, has committed to implementing all of the report’s recommendations.

USYD Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said the College’s plan “represents meaningful and substantial leadership”.

Despite its troubling findings, the report provided that “…the experience of College of the majority of St Paul’s College students is overwhelmingly positive and rewarding.”

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