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Sexism stalks our top-college corridors

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NSW MP Jenny Leong has consistently brought to light the toxic culture that accompanies many higher positions of power (Image via YouTube)

Sexism and classism are systemic problems in Australia, with roots buried deep in our prestigious institutions, writes Emma Goldrick.

LAST WEEK documents were leaked from the prestigious Shore School in North Sydney detailing a range of illegal and misogynistic activities Year 12 students had planned to undertake as part of their end-of-year muck-up day, known as the 'Triwizard Shorenament'.

While the acts and attitudes exhibited throughout the document were alarming in their own right, they speak to a broader problem of sexism, classism and racism that permeates Australia's prestigious institutions and corporations.

The 'Triwizard Shorenament' offers a glimpse into the embedded culture of our prestigious educational institutions. It encouraged other students to: 'run it straight with a random and deck them'; spit on a homeless man; kiss a girl under the age of 15; kiss 'an Asian chick' and have sex with a woman over 80 kilograms. The acts detailed throughout the 'Triwizard Shorenament' are all too similar to the reports of sexual violence and other "rites of passage" exhibited through 'The Red Zone Report' in 2018.

'The Red Zone Report' published by End Rape on Campus (EROC) Australia, is a 200-page document including graphic photos, screenshots and police reports related to the culture of rape and sexual assault prevalent on Australian university campuses.

The report analysed sexual violence and hazing rituals taken place at Australian university residential colleges. The list included practices known as "fresher grooming" in which older male students solicit and sexually rank younger female students, in a series of events including the "fresher five" and "the bone room".

The report's name coincides with the increase of sexual assault and rape cases reported during the orientation and Welcome Week at the University of Sydney, with assault services coining the period the "red zone".

Co-author of the report and EROC ambassador Anna Hush told the University of Sydney's student newspaper Honi Soit the report took"an intersectional approach at looking at college culture".

Anna Hush further explained:

"The general privilege that college students and communities have, plays out in so many different ways. The issue of wealth and power is something we definitely need to understand if we want to get a grasp on what's happening in the colleges."

Shadow Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek expressed on Twitter, her disappointment over the Shore School student plans for muck-up day activities, stating:

'How depressing that sexual assault and the assault of homeless people is seen by some as a rite of passage into manhood. It's illegal and it's cowardly. What kind of culture breeds this?'

These lists and practices conflate entering "manhood" with a rite of passage that capitalises on privilege and the safeguard that brings. The evident interlinkages between the attitudes and predatory nature exhibited in the 'Triwizard Shorenament' and 'The Red Zone Report' then permeate into leading corporations and politics.

This toxicity continues to be called out by women working in fields predominantly dominated by men that have received their formal education through these very institutions. NSW MP Jenny Leong has consistently brought light to the "bear pit" of politics and the culture that has come to accompany many higher positions of power.

In reference to past alleged sexual assault allegations against Greens member Jeremy Buckingham, Ms Leong stated:

"I have spent many days in this bear pit and I know that politics can be an intense place, but, as too many women know, you can feel the difference… when a man is in control and when he is not."

Ms Leong and Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi (former NSW upper house MP) issued a joint statement regarding the alleged sexual misconduct of their former colleagues and of politicians in general stating:

'The culture of sexism, sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances in society in general and in politics, in particular, must change.'

However, as exhibited by the broader handling of sexual assault allegations within politics – by the Greens, Labor and the Coalition – victims may feel as though the reputation of these political parties continues to be prioritised over justice and welfare.

In a bid to protect the reputation of these institutions, information and internal processes are often kept discrete as to not draw attention and scrutiny to the party and process. 

*St Paul’s College (University of Sydney) initially declined to take part in the Broderick Review misogyny inquest but did participate in a subsequent review with then-Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, the results of which were published two years later, in 2018.

The safety net provided to these perpetrators and institutions by public figures, media outlets and parents, becomes the enabler in accepting such behaviour as a "one-off" or "just surging hormones", rather than the deeply embedded problem that it is.  

The #ProudShoreMums and other voices of sympathy continue to act as a safeguard of an excuse to a problem that has permeated our educational institutions and transcends into business and politics.

The culture recently exhibited by Shore School speaks to a broader issue of sexism and classism built into the framework of our prestigious institutions.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally stated that the results of St Paul's College misogyny review were kept confidential. However, St Paul's College has indicated that while they did decline to participate in the original inquiry, the results of the subsequent review were published. The article has been amended accordingly. 

Emma Goldrick is a Political Science Honours Student at the University of Sydney.

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