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"To the men of St Paul’s College: it's time you took responsibility for your actions."

To the men of St Paul’s College,

Well, I hope you’re all proud of yourselves.

After yet another scandal-ridden week of reports about sexism, abuse and assault, you’ve managed to take absolutely zero responsibility. Instead, your disgraceful behaviour has brought to the end the careers of two senior college leaders. Your warden and chairman have both fallen on their swords and retired as a result of your behaviour. You have brought to an end their distinguished careers, and yet where are you amidst all of this? There hasn’t been one iota of responsibility accepted from any of you.

It is very fortunate for you that University of Sydney has not followed the lead of Harvard University where 10 incoming students had their enrolments withdrawn as a result of being part of a Facebook group that published memes denigrating women. This may be a hard-line stance but it sends a message to students even before they arrive of what won’t be tolerated. It also punishes directly those whose conduct is inappropriate rather than allowing someone else to take the fall.

"It is very fortunate for you that University of Sydney has not followed the lead of Harvard University." (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In contrast to Harvard university, it appears to be the belief of your college that by changing management, they will change your culture. But this belief is flawed. Culture only changes when good people stand up and own their behaviour. It starts from the bottom up – not the other way around. Changes in senior leadership positions are a common response to issues we have seen at your college, but from experience I know that this doesn’t actually change anything at all. Real cultural change can only take place when the actual people facilitating the behaviours realise they need to change themselves.

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Last week we saw that despite recent scrutiny placed on instances of sexual abuse and assault on university campuses, many of you men still don’t get it. A culture of vicious hazing assaults and initiation rituals has been reported, and it reminds me of similar vicious assaults that occurred in naval establishments in the 1970s (that have been the subject of the Royal Commission).

We’ve also seen your treatment and respect for women on show - posting crude, offensive and sexist ‘advice’ about how to 'get rid of one-night-stands' on your social media platform for you to all revel in. But again, none of you have taken any responsibility.

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Unfortunately, within the community there will still be many who will be quick to come to your aid and make excuses for your antics. But quite frankly, it appears that you seem to lack the very basic understanding that misogynistic and disrespectful behaviour towards women and vicious hazing ceremonies are not acceptable in any educational or business community. Many in the community will be all too willing to pass your behaviour off as just “boys being boys”. You might hear people say, “Ah, it’s harmless, we did it in our day – it’s all part of growing up”. But I beg to differ.

You may also find some comfort in your college having a very proud, long and ‘rich’ history full of powerful alumni that includes high profile legal identities, politicians, professors, clergy, entertainers, businessmen and Rhodes scholars that will ensure that being a ‘Pauline' will still carry weight. But unfortunately for you, it also has an equally long and infamous history of alleged abuse and sexism that is clearly still alive and well today.

It’s alarming to think while the rest of society has woken up to the fact sexism and misogyny have no place in modern society, your college is breeding our future doyens and decision makers in the midst of a repeatedly sexist and misogynistic culture. It’s time you are called on this behaviour. No more excuses.

Men, you cannot escape the simple truth that behaviour like physically and emotionally abusing people is not the actions of real men. The Facebook post (on a presumably closed group) we saw surface in the media this week was liked around 100 times, which means more than half of your current residents saw the post and made the conscious decision to ‘like’ it. So, while the college executive might hold values of respect and integrity, it would appear that as men of the college, by and large… you do not.

Many in the community will be all too willing to pass your behaviour off as just “boys being boys”. (Image via iStock.)
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Ultimately, I suspect this is what the Human Rights Commission’s report into Assault and Sexism in Australian Universities will reveal – sexist, abusive, misogynistic and utterly inappropriate behaviour towards and about women is rampant throughout universities across the country. As a community we should be concerned about this, as those attitudes that are currently being accepted in universities are going to be brought into the workplace when you graduate and then it is going to be your employer’s problem to fix.

I believe your college has a 40-year history of these sorts of allegations, but the truth is you are far from alone - and when the report is released, my guess is the rhetoric from the general public will be one of shock and outrage. But do we have a right to be shocked? The universities have buried their heads in the sand for so long and as a community we have been prepared to accept inappropriate conduct and standards as being rites of passage.

As a community, we all have a part to play and we all need to start reflecting on our own circles of influence and what we can each do to influence cultural change for the better. It may be a cliché, but the standard we walk past, with regard to showing respect for women, is the standard we accept. It starts with setting examples for our own children, teaching young men from day dot – what is and is not appropriate. Educating our children in high schools about the ramifications of the behaviour we saw this week at your college. We must teach consent training and what is and isn’t sexual harassment, about the proper use of social media and we must teach students about the legal consequences of their actions.

"It’s time that you are called on this behaviour." (Image via iStock.)
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I believe it is through education and awareness and calling out inappropriate behaviour that we can begin to make a change. Universities are our greatest hope, they are the place to influence our future leaders. If they fail in these respects, what will the greater consequences be for generations to come?

So I ask you, men of St Paul’s: what should the ramifications for you be, for these latest episodes? Will there even be ramifications? But listen up. Men don’t need to denigrate others to feel good about themselves, and while you exist now in your nice cosy sanctity where you are lord of your own domain, there is going to come a day of reckoning when you leave your protected environment and will be seeking acceptance in a work environment where respect towards women is demanded.

In the past, you may have found St Paul’s on your resume opened doors for you; however, the real world has moved on and those very same doors will now slam shut as employers see those same words. You see, employers are risk averse and they will be unwilling to take the risk of employing someone who proudly is associated with an archaic institution where the lack of respect for women is still championed by residents.

Oh, and by the way - when you do leave and start your first job, chances are your boss will be a woman…

Adair Donaldson

Adair Donaldson is an ambassador for the Full Stop Foundation and the director of Donaldson Law, which help survivors of abuse to seek justice and bring about institutional change. Adair has represented hundreds of survivors subjected to abuse within institutions such as the Australian Defence Force, religious institutions and schools. After twenty years’ experience in the law, Adair founded Donaldson Law to focus on a non-adversarial approach to achieving holistic legal solutions for his clients following a growing realisation that aggressive litigation was not serving his clients best.

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