Liz Broderick hands down report into college culture at Sydney University

Liz Broderick hands down report into college culture at Sydney University

For the past year and a half the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has been investigating the culture at several of Sydney University’s residential colleges.

In Sydney on Wednesday morning she presented the comprehensive findings from that investigation commissioned by the University and five of its residential colleges – Sancta Sophia College, St Andrew’s College, St John’s College, Wesley College and Women’s College

The university’s vice chancellor, Dr Michael Spense, said the review has been “undeniably challenging” for the college leadership teams but that the university will accept and act on all of the recommendations.

“The University of Sydney is committed to eliminating intimidating, abusive, disrespectful or threatening behaviour from our campuses and the communities we serve. The safety and wellbeing of our students is at the forefront of our concerns,” Dr Michael Spence says. 

The review was instigated after a series of scandals involving campus colleges that ranged from students being forced to eat vile concoctions, ‘slut shaming’, and the establishment of a “pro-rape” Facebook page by St Paul’s students.

Following extensive consultations with 632 students, staff and alumni during 2016 and 2017, and 1000 students online, the report examines issues including sexual assault, hazing rituals, alcohol, gender inequality and leadership. It identifies clearly that there is work to do including addressing alcohol, implementing zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and promoting inclusiveness.

“This report is several decades in the making,” Ambassador for End Rape on Campus, Nina Funnell told Women’s Agenda. “Students have been raising the issue of sexual assault in colleges since at least the 1970s. The results are disheartening but not in the least bit surprising.”

Broderick has delivered an overarching report to the University and five individual reports, one to each participating college.  (The individual college reports will be made available on their websites by midday on Wednesday.) 

She says if the colleges are committed to renewing their cultures they will reap the rewards.

“The findings in this report should in no way reduce the confidence of the community in the residential Colleges. Rather this and the individual Colleges’ reports serve as a record that the Colleges are genuinely committed to cultural renewal and to ensuring that these institutions are places where all students can thrive,” Broderick says. 

It is understood that the colleges will have two years to act on the 23 recommendations, at which point there will be another review.

“We share a commitment to ensuring all of our students are safe and look forward to working with the colleges to make sure all students feel comfortable on campus and college grounds at all times,” said Dr Spence.

He said previous systems for reporting sexual misconduct on campus needed improvement and confirmed that work had begun.

“It’s incredibly important that this is the first step in the process and that colleges are held accountable and reviewed as planned,” Nina Funnell says.

In May 2016 Sydney University announced it would engage Liz Broderick to lead a full review into the culture at five colleges but the announcement was not without its detractors.

The review was variously described as a witch hunt, unnecessary and proof that political correctness had gone too far by college alumni who opposed Broderick’s remit. Initially it seemed their opposition would mean the full reports would not be made publicly available.

St Paul’s refused to take part and publicly announced it would boycott the process. “The defensiveness and hostility from St Paul’s to Liz Broderick’s review is incredibly telling,” Funnell says.

A new scandal in May prompted the college to admit in early June that it had an unacceptable culture and sought to join the review. A report into St Paul’s will be handed down in June of 2018 due to their late participation.

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