Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The extraordinary events at residential colleges

There has been much in the news over the last few days about the culture at the colleges at the University of Sydney, in particular, St Pauls. As an Old Pauline I must admit to not at all being surprised by this.

In my own experience (1975, 1976) there was much about the college culture that was abhorant, strarting with the idea of initiation of Freshers through to an attitude to women that verged on the primitive. In my era a large proportion of the college came from single sex boarding schools and from regional areas, and brought with them the culture of the B&S Ball.

I was no wowser in College. I knew how to let myself into the Womens' College rather than be signed in at the front, I held some of the best late night parties in my college room, and I could be relied on to get horribly drunk at Rawson Cup and other special dinners. I did not however participate in any of the events that involved intimidation of fellow residents nor the deneigration of women.

The current matter in part revolves around a Facebook group that apparently positioned itself as "pro rape" or at least verged on doing so going under a title of "Define Consent". The Warden in his defence of this has rightly pointed out that this site was not condoned by the college, that the college does not censor the students social networks and that the college is not in loco parentis.

However, in his defence the Warden seems to express no understanding that the culture that lies at the heart of the site is indeed something over which the college has control. There is a degree to which the colleges as businesses are confronted with a marketing problem. The community at large might be horrified by this culture, but the target market - both students and to a degree their parents - actually revels in it. As such a single college taking action faces the risk of financial disadvantage versus the colleges that don't.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the bulk of the outrage was directed at St Andrews College, which seemed to resolve some of the issues by ceasing to be a male only college. There is some suggestion that move was made for financial rather than cultural reasons, but it did have the effect of slightly civilizing that college. However the stories over recent days have noted similar concerns at other colleges.

That this is cultural is the point made by one former female college student. The simple and accurate point she makes is;

The focus now needs to shift to how we change a dangerous misogynistic culture. There are a raft of positive changes that can take place, the first being an acknowledgement, by everyone involved in college life, that there is, indeed, a problem with the college system.

As we've seen the warden of the college hasn't reached that point yet, and no doubt his lawyers have told him that he can't admit there might be a problem for fear of the liability that would cause.

I suppose the only point left to note is that we should not be surprised about a mysogonistic culture at an institution named after the great mysoginist St Paul!

1 comment:

Andre Stegplatten said...

I suppose the only point left to note is that we should not be surprised about a mysogonistic culture at an institution.