Our Say: Cultural change we needed generations ago

A SHOCKING 200-page report published this week by End Rape on Campus (EROC) Australia must concern every parent with a son or daughter living in a university college.

The Red Zonedetails disturbing instances of hazing and ritual humiliation within residential colleges at universities right across the country, along with – in far too many cases – a toxic culture of misogyny where women are treated as second-class citizens. It also describes the hierarchy within colleges where first-year students (“freshers”) are subjected to bizarre initiations.

The report is brutally frank about the reality of life within some of these colleges but – shamefully – not really surprising.

For decades we have heard the anecdotes of college bonding sessions. Told as one-off [heavily self-censored] stories they are slightly ribald, strangely weird and sometimes even amusing tales.

Compiled together in The Red Zone, though, they become something for more ingrained and sinister, and the worst stories are enough to turn your stomach.

They quickly turn from quirky to criminal.

The good news is that nowhere within the 200 pages of The Red Zone do we read the words “Charles Sturt University”, and it’s heartening to believe our regional campus is immune to the worst of this behaviour.

Indeed, the report authors list the elitism of some of the Sydney colleges [boarding fees can be up to $800 a week, putting them beyond the financial reach of most families] and the fact that many of the male students, in particular, have gone on to university after six years of boarding at some of Sydney’s top all-boys’ schools as contributing to the culture.

Those influences are not nearly as strong at CSU – and CSU is much the better for it – but it would be naive to think nothing bad happens here.

Most students at CSU are living away from home for the first time and the drinking culture is as strong as it would be among any of 18 to 21-year-old Australians. But CSU’s residences are not defined by the stupid, sexist traditions that many of the sandstone colleges of Sydney and Melbourne anachronistically cling to.

The message, though, is that no university students should be intimidated, humiliated or attacked in this way.

Hopefully The Red Zone, by shocking and scaring parents across the country, can finally start the culture change on uni campuses that is already generations too late.