A few weeks ago 30 students were suspended from St John’s College at the University of Sydney for their alleged role in a drinking game that went horribly wrong. They have been accused of taking part in a ritual which left a young woman in hospital with apparent alcohol poisoning. Zoe was part of the inaugural year of women students at St Johns in 2001, and these are her memories of College life.
“I don’t exactly remember the moment I realised life at St John’s College wasn’t for me. Maybe it was after witnessing the spectacle of flaming “man-ginas”, where brutish young Johnians would set alight their pubic hair in front of a bellowing, chanting crowd as some kind of test of their manhood. Maybe it was after watching the beautiful, heritage listed library being drowned in beer and then used as a slip ‘n’ slide as another drunken night in house got underway.
I hadn’t been exposed to bastardisation rituals before going to College, and thankfully, I haven’t been exposed to them since.
As a naïve 17 year old, I packed my bags and left home without looking back – excited to be accepted to St John’s in their first year of taking women students. I was also accepted into the only other co-ed College on campus, but took my chances on this unknown venture – knowing it would be tough, perhaps – but also a chance to be part of history.
Binge drinking was only part of the problem at St John’s, and certainly not unique to that College. Other friends on campus told me of their drinking rituals, which involved swimming the length of a pool, downing a shot of alcohol, then swimming another length before eating something disgusting – a raw egg, or a dry weetbix – the challenge was to see how long one could continue before vomiting. A former boss of mine was an Old Boy at another College, and gained the moniker “Toxic” – for the taste of his vomit. Not his judgement on contents of his stomach, but his fellow Collegiate mates who would drink enough to throw up, then taste each others sick. I’m sure their parents would be proud.
There was no doubt when I started as one of 30-something young women (all in our late teens) at St John’s we were resented and not appreciated by the ‘boys’. This is not to say some Johnians didn’t welcome our arrival: they did. Some of them became close friends and boyfriends. But the overt sexism was somewhat stifling and was part of the reason I left before my year was up.
Don’t get me wrong, I participated. I drank until I threw up and there are nights that are a fuzzy haze when I try and remember how I crawled home. But the endless drinking games, and pressure to be permanently wasted got boring and unimaginative. The culture of drinking, to be one of the boys, was constant. As were the overt attempts to make the women feel uncomfortable. Someone made the poor choice to keep our bathrooms unisex – fine in theory – but not great when you regularly walked in on one of your male collegiates emptying their bowels with the door of the cubicle wide open. It’s funny, I never saw a woman doing the same, or changing a tampon in the open. Let’s be honest: it would be unimaginable.
The morbid fascination with faeces seemed to extend beyond the toilet; on several occasions I found a turd sitting proudly in the middle of a shower cubicle – clearly it wasn’t put there by mistake. Or the hilarious ritual of boys pooing in each others shoes outside their bedroom doors in the dead of night – an hilarious surprise when you went to get ready the next day.
I had some lovely friends at St John’s: both men and women. But for me, I felt compelled to fit-in a culture that I didn’t sit comfortably with, and when I’d had enough of drinking myself to near-death or when I questioned the animalistic bathroom habits of my fellow Johnians I felt like I was the odd one out.
I don’t know the Rector at St John’s these days. But any attempt to clean up the culture of binge-drinking, to stop the harassment of young women, is a good thing in my opinion. It’s high time College life looked beyond the keg for a night’s entertainment and stopped the all-encompassing pressure that to have fun you have to be wasted.”
Zoe is a freelance journalist and voiceover artist. She works predominately in radio, dabbles in print, and can often be seen with a latte in one hand and a phone in the other. Find her on Twitter here.
Have you ever been involved in a drinking culture like this? Were your uni or school days anything like this?