Culture

New Report Reveals Shocking Levels Of Abuse And Toxic Culture At University College

"Some of the boys can be terrifying when they are drunk."

A new report has confirmed long-held concerns about cultures of bullying, excessive drinking and sexual harassment at Sydney University’s residential colleges, with one quarter of female college residents reporting that they have experienced sexual harassment since commencing at college.

Forty-one percent of students additionally reported that they had witnessed sexual harassment of another college student during their time there.

Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick today handed down her report on the culture at Sydney University’s residential colleges, saying that while “for most college students most of the time, their experience is positive and rewarding”, the report’s more negative findings confirmed that “action needs to be taken as a matter of priority”.

The report is the culmination of an independent review that saw Broderick and her team speak to more than 630 students and recent alumni. Forty-two percent of current college students participated through discussion groups and individual interviews, and sixty-nine percent of students responded to the survey component.

On the matter of sexual harassment, 19 percent of surveyed students reported experiencing sexual harassment since starting college (the figure rises to 25 percent for women, compared to 6 percent of men). Ninety percent of these instances of sexual harassment occurred at or on the grounds of a residential college.

The report also identified a significant gap in students’ knowledge of what actually constitutes sexual harassment — while only nine percent said they had experienced sexual harassment, 19% reported that they had experienced behaviours that constitute sexual harassment once they were given a list of those behaviours.

A Toxic Culture At University Colleges

The report also revealed cultures of bullying, hazing, and sexism at residential colleges, with 50 percent of students reporting that they have witnessed bullying, intimidation or hazing while at college. Multiple female students interviewed gave comments such as “I wish I didn’t fear it when the boys get drunk”, and “some of the boys can be terrifying when they are drunk”.

Some of the intimidating behaviours the students listed included drunk students groping people at bars and parties, broken glass strewn throughout the college, drunk males getting rough and pressuring others into sex, and verbally abusing or physically intimidating bystanders.

At the report’s launch, Sydney University Vice Chancellor Michael Spence acknowledged that “the findings in these reports are confronting and uncomfortable”, and affirmed the need to take action.

The Broderick report makes 23 recommendations, while acknowledging that many colleges are already implementing best practice responses in some areas. The recommendations include increasing the presence of female students in leadership positions, implementing stronger alcohol policies that ban kegs and other forms of access to excessive alcohol, amending codes of conduct to explicitly prohibit hazing, and articulating a much stronger, zero-tolerance policy against sexual assault and harassment.

All college heads have accepted and begun to implement the report’s recommendations, and have agreed to another review being conducted in three years to gauge progress. The recommendations and response have also faced criticism, however, from those who feel they come too late, and do not go far enough.

Report Confirms What We Knew

University of Sydney SRC Women’s Officer Imogen Grant, who has helped lead campaigns against sexual assault on campus over the past several years, told Junkee the report just “confirms what students and advocates have known for decades”.

“The fact that colleges wouldn’t act until a review was conducted indicates a deep cynicism towards the historical allegations brought forward by their own students,” she said.

“College heads have been quick to congratulate themselves for their bravery. In reality, there was a significant amount of resistance and hostility from college councils and college students towards the review when it was originally proposed. It remains to be seen to what extent they’ll take up these recommendations in reality.”

“It was the tireless work of students, survivors and advocates that brought this issue into the national spotlight. It is these groups that deserve to be thanked and congratulated, and in particular the college students who shared their experiences in this process.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.auIn an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.