An investigation into orientation week at Australian universities, known as the red zone because of the danger of sexual assault, has for the first time documented rampant misogyny, bullying and the alcohol-fueled ritual humiliation and hazing of new students at residential colleges.
The report details how older students at some Sydney University colleges, in an activity called “fresher fishing”, sexually prey on first year students who may be more vulnerable to pressure or coercion.
Catharine Lumby, a Professor of Media Studies at Macquarie University, says this study, the Red Zone Report, goes much further than any investigation to date.
“It gives a graphic and detailed account of bullying, harassment and assault in these residences,” she writes in the report’s forward. “It makes for sickening reading.”
The study details data on residential colleges and halls gathered from 12 universities, including all GO8 universities.
At Sydney University residential colleges, the report details:
- A college resident described a practice where if female residents left shampoo, conditioner or body milk in the bathroom, male students would masturbate into the container.
- Red-head male residents of St John’s College have an annual ritual where they set their pubic hair on fire to gain an unofficial leadership position.
- Male students drank live goldfish which were part of the table decoration at a formal college dinner event.
- The annual The Purge event at St John’s College where students are encouraged to post embarrassing and graphic photos online about the sexual activity of other students.
- Faeces smeared on the walls of common areas and being left in common areas of the University of Sydney colleges.
- First year students being locked in the bathrooms at St John’s College and having vats of dead fish thrown on them.
- A traditional drinking competition called the Bachelor of Inebriation. Competing to consume up to 15 alcoholic drinks in a session without going to the bathroom, leading to students soiling themselves.
- A predatory attitude among some senior male students to junior female students demonstrated in organised events: “bait-cruise” (a student invites a fresher girl as their bait for the night), “fresher five” (voting for the five hottest fresher girls) and the “bone room” (drug and alcohol-fueled sex parties have been denied by the college, St Paul’s).
Those who refuse to take part are often labelled as wowserish, effeminate or unable to take a joke.
Michael Spence, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney, in May 2016 asked residential colleges — some of whom are outside the university’s direct control — to cooperate with a review of their culture conducted by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.
Today the University of Sydney said it had not seen the full report.
“However, we are aware of some of the accusations in the report and it is for this reason that we are working with the colleges and Liz Broderick and her team on improving campus culture for the University and five of its residential colleges,” the university said.
“Those colleges have accepted all recommendations and their implementation is under way. The process for one residential college — St Pauls — is ongoing.”
Some of the hazing rituals date back to the early 20th century.
The study, in reviewing almost 90 years of newspaper reports on the college scandals at the University of Sydney, found evidence that current traditions, such as the pubic hair lighting, the Bone Room and the Bachelor of Inebriation date back several decades.
In 1939 a St Andrew’s magazine editorial outlines college hazing including making freshers sing, giving them a bath in a horse-trough, and plastering them with bad fruit and flour.
In a tradition known as “soup night”, St Andrew’s seniors forced incoming students to lie in a mix of sand, oil, rotten fruit, paint and molasses.
Incidents at other Australian residential colleges:
University of Queensland: Residents from Emmanuel College last year produced a Yearbook that included quotes attributed to students such as “consent is nothing” and “I’d rather choke her to sleep than talk her to sleep”.
University of New England: First year students at St Albert’s College were forced to eat like dogs, expected to drink a mixture of beer, vomit, cow faeces and urine in a competition and an organised weekly Morality Court where students have been required to account for their sexual activity.
Australian National University: ANU students at John XXIII college have a ritual called “dead possum” where fresher students are ordered onto the branches of trees where they must drink alcohol until one falls off. Five male students were expelled and two were suspended for taking clandestine pictures of female college residents’ cleavage. Students at Bruce Hall were trading and soliciting nude images of female residents online.
University of Newcastle: Residents of Evatt College have a yearly ritual where they are encouraged to drink beer that has been poured onto another resident’s genital region, a practice known as bird-bathing.
Macquarie University: Residents at the university Village created a Facebook group to share embarrassing and sexual photos of students and residents.
“What the evidence presented in this report demonstrates is that the social structure of the residential colleges creates the conditions that enable and propagate rampant abuse and misogyny,” report says.
“Specifically, the common residential college culture that generates abusive behaviour is often dominated by a clique of socially powerful older students who acquire the formal and informal leadership of the college student body.
“The typical college culture celebrates an immature model of Australian masculinity characterised by overt displays of heterosexuality, larrikinism, participation in contact sports and beer drinking.”
The Red Zone Report, produced by End Rape on Campus Australia, an organisation working to end sexual violence at universities and residential colleges, was written by Nina Funnell, Anna Hush and Sharna Bremner.
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