Students gathered outside the Wesley College gate at the University of Sydney on May 16, with their mouths taped shut, demanding the names of the editors of the 2014 Wesley Journal, which included a page called the “Rackweb”.
The “Rackweb” featured in the journal as a spider diagram of intercollegiate campus “hookups”, complete with the full names of students who had reportedly had sex with other students, and referred to women named in it as “Biggest Pornstar” or “Best Ass”.
By refusing to release the names of the editors, the college Master is refusing to cooperate with an investigation by the university's administration. But students say neither the college nor the university has a good track record addressing sexual harassment or assault reports.
In fact they only came up with their first sexual harassment policy at the end of last year, without student consultation and without visible or accessible means of enforcement.
Lily Matchett, a member of the USyd Women's Collective and a councillor on the Sydney University Postgraduate Association told Green Left Weekly: “The University of Sydney senior management has demanded the names of the editors of the Wesley Journal, but Wesley has refused to release the names.
“We would like to see disciplinary action taken to send the message that the language used in the journal is not acceptable. But more broadly we want to see structural change in the way the university handles incidents of discrimination, sexual harassment and assault.
“In particular, we would like to see the university implement a specific mechanism for these incidents to be reported, with trained staff on hand to respond sensitively and appropriately.”
“Every time misogyny, sexual assault, victim-blaming and slut-shaming happens on campus, the university and colleges respond with a condoning silence that forces frightened female students to the media as anonymous spokespeople.”
After the student protest, the university's vice-chancellor Michael Spence asked former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick for help to bring about cultural change within the residential colleges.
Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson welcomed the announcement but said the problem behaviour is not isolated to the University of Sydney. “What we're seeing now, I think, is more and more students and others having the confidence to come out and say this is not acceptable and we want something done about it,” she said.
Anna Hush, a Women's Officer at the University of Sydney, said: “We want all colleges to host compulsory sex and consent workshops for students every year by a third party organisation, to ensure women's bodies and choices are respected rather than exploited.”
This incident is just one of many in a pervasive culture of sexism and “frat culture” on campus.
According to National Union of Students' Talk About It survey, 86% of woman on campus have experienced someone making sexual comments or noises and 35% of woman on campus have had unwanted contact in the way of groping and touching.
Hush continued: “As we have seen from the University of Sydney's Safer Communities survey, released on May 16, one in four Sydney University students have experienced some kind of harassment or assault during their time as a student.
“This is a very alarming figure, and highlights the need for the university to take a proactive stance to prevent these incidents from happening. Educational and training programs, a specific mechanism for reporting these incidents and trained support staff are all ways the university could improve this culture.”
On the future of the campaign, Matchett said: “The next steps in the campaign are to continue to put pressure on the college to release the names of the journal authors; to fight for visible, accessible and responsive mechanisms for sexual harassment reports, created in consultation with students in college and on campus; and finally to ensure that all colleges receive mandatory sex and consent education from a third party organisation elected by Sydney University students.”
The campaign is being led by the USyd Women's Collective and has a wider non-autonomous network of support. To get involved email the USYD Women's Collective at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Bronte Scott is a member of Sydney Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance and Mia Sanders is a national co-convener.]