UNSW’s Baxter College Incident and an Investigation into Campus Culture

By Brittney Rigby

This article may cause distress for some readers. If you would like to report any possible breaches of the Student Code of Conduct, including sexism, students are directed to the Student Integrity Unit for support. https://student.unsw.edu.au/complaints

  

“I wish that all the ladies were little red foxes

And if I were a hunter, I’d shoot them in their boxes

I wish that all the ladies were buns in the oven

And if I were a baker, I’d cream them by the dozen

I wish that all the ladies were holes in the road

And if I was a dump truck, I’d fill them with my load.”

 

These were some of the words chanted by male students from UNSW’s Phillip Baxter College last Friday as part of a ‘boys’ night out.’

The video of the chant, filmed on a mobile phone by two male Baxter students on the bus, was initially posted to the private UNSW Women’s Collective Facebook group on Monday afternoon. Media attention and widespread controversy increased dramatically when Junkee posted the footage in an article about the incident on Tuesday.

 

 

Since then, the story has been picked up by the likes of ABC, SBS, news.com.au, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Australian, 9 News and Sky News.

Meetings were held between UNSW and student representatives, as well as college residents after the video was posted, and the incident was reported to the Dean of Baxter College, Head of Colleges and the Vice-President of UNSW.

The UNSW SRC’s Women’s Collective released a statement on Monday night, stating:

This behaviour is deplorable and is strongly condemned by the UNSW SRC Women’s Collective and UNSW Colleges. We are working together to ensure that appropriate action is being taken against the students involved. We take all incidences of sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment extremely seriously.

The Women’s Collective believes that this type of behaviour speaks to persisting attitudes within universities and society at large, which perpetuate a culture that is degrading to women and normalise acts of sexual assault and gendered violence. We are committed to fighting this culture and actively opening up a dialogue to combat sexism and to educate around consent and respect for women.”

Full statement from the UNSW SRC Women’s Collective 

A snap demonstration was held on Tuesday, on the Library Lawn, to protest against sexism on campus. A large number of College students attended the protest, and many took signs reading ‘Respect,’ ‘End Rape Culture’ and ‘Zero Tolerance at UNSW’ back to Goldstein College to display in an act of solidarity.

UNSW spokeswoman, Denise Knight, told news.com.au that the university was “appalled by the sexist and demeaning attitudes and behaviours towards women outlined in these allegations”.

“The university will be working closely with staff, student groups and colleges to ensure that incidents of this kind do not occur again,” she said.

In response, Phillip Baxter College residents released an apology statement.

“This letter is a statement of apology from residents of Phillip Baxter College to the community at large for conduct of a sexist and misogynistic nature. As a College we acknowledge and understand the boundaries that we have crossed. As a College community we condemn the actions outlined within the chants and their misogynistic sentiments. The words pronounced are in no way an indication of the values that Phillip Baxter College adheres to, but the mere fact that we have sung them is enough to tarnish the integrity of every resident.

Bringing this issue to light has made us realise the naivety we have been clouded by for not realising the impact issues of this nature have on society. As a community we are using this opportunity to reaffirm the values with which we live by and ensure that nothing of this nature is ever present within our culture again. We will ensure that there is an increase in education and awareness internally to make sure that our residents understand and appreciate this very prevalent societal issue.”

Full apology from the UNSW Phillip Baxter College 

The UNSW Women’s Collective welcomed the letter, saying “the students have openly taken responsibility for their actions … We acknowledge in particular their recognition of the severity of the societal impact that sexist attitudes and college culture have for women in our community”.

One man commented on the UNSW SRC’s Facebook post of the statement, claiming that these situations have been happening for decades.

“I attended Baxter College in 1970 and I have to say that things were no different back then. The best thing about Baxter for me was leaving it. Don’t lecture me about high jinx [sic] and youthful games. The activities were specifically designed to create a mindless pack mentality. … This is just plain uncivilized behavior [sic] and should never have been tolerated by UNSW and the College administration.”

James Dunn, the President of Baxter College, admitted to participating in the chants himself, but says he now regrets his behaviour.

“The video is pretty appalling,” he told ABC’s 7:30 Report.

“I came from a rural country town, very impressionable … [and] I was taught these chants as part of the culture that we have here.

“I do regret that the … video was filmed and brought to light in the way it was, but I don’t regret that this issue was brought to our attention. Now we get the chance to fix it in the future and make a better culture within Baxter College.”

The Dean of Baxter College, Anthony McGirr, has condemned the behaviour.

“It’s absolutely abhorrent,” he said. “I think it’s unacceptable and I think that kind of behaviour goes against everything the university stands for and the college stands for as well.”

The UNSW Women’s Collective does not believe this was an isolated incident.

“This type of sexist behaviour is not uncommon in universities and has a history among colleges not only nationwide, but globally,” they said.

“Enough is enough. Women are not sexual objects and sex is not a game.”

Ruby Lew, a member of the UNSW Women’s Collective, originally posted the footage to the private Facebook group because both she and the person who filmed the video did not believe the College would act on it.

“The person who filmed the video decided to send it to me because he felt that the actions of the men on the bus were grossly sexist, that they had been perpetrated before, and that no substantial action had been taken against it,” she said.

“We believed that the College was not going to take adequate action against the incident, considering that the chant has been reported to the College administration before, and yet lives on in the sacred College rituals. The Women’s Collective is a fantastically supportive group and I knew we would not take this incident sitting down.

“The idea that there are groups of men from UNSW colleges that get together to sing such degrading lyrics is not only hugely offensive, it’s also really threatening.”

Ms Lew, a second year Arts/Law student, goes on to say that similar incidents have occurred previously.

“A similar chant occurred last year at a rugby game, in which Baxter College supporters chanted, alluding to raping the other team’s girlfriends’,” she said.

“A complaint was issued to the College officials, who now claim that they dealt with the incident appropriately.

“It seems evident to me that the way in which the College deals with these incidents is not, in fact, adequate, as the ‘boys club’ culture is allowed to persist under the radar of official policy and programs but with full knowledge of many senior student figures.”

Despite this, the UNSW Women’s Collective maintains that this incident is not a reflection of the experiences of all female college residents at the university.

Ashna Basu, a fourth year Medicine student, says she “really enjoyed” her time as a former New College Resident.

Ms Basu stated that the Christian college, with a policy of no alcohol on the premises, seemed more conservative than others.

She does, however, claim that she could regularly hear, from her room, a “mob of college students”, who were not from New College, chanting while walking past on Anzac Parade. She also heard these chants being sung by college students at sporting events.

“We thought it was disgusting, but I guess (erroneously) we thought it was something the college should … handle in house.”

However, condemnation of the incident has not been met with unanimous support.

Some commentators on a news.com.au Facebook post, linking an article about the incident, claimed that the outrage is a sign of political correctness gone too far:

“big deal not like they are a generation of rapists, just banter which is being overpoliced by politically correct kill joys”

“Not excusing anyone, however at what point was ‘rape’ mentioned … it was done in an all male environment where no women were actually being ‘assaulted’ in anyway…”

“Get out you bunch of PC idiots, we used to sing this song 15 years ago and no one got the PC pants on then”

“Boys will be boys?! These harmless chants have been around since my father was in college! Lighten up!”

UNSW Women’s Officer, Jocelyn Dracakis, says these attitudes make it easier for this sexist behaviour to be “swept under the carpet”. She goes on to say that they also encourage victim blaming, and make it difficult for victims to speak out.

“This culture is toxic because those harmed are afraid to say anything,” she said.

“Women who have shared posts and media supporting us on Facebook have faced substantive harassment and personal attacks directed almost entirely from men and Facebook trolls.

“We need to create a more transparent environment to allow the truth to be exposed and people to feel supported. We need to open a dialogue that’s healthy, empowering and respectful to all.”

A gay, fifth year student, who has asked to remain anonymous, says that he was grateful to leave Warrane College at UNSW, due to institutionalised sexism and homophobia.

“Being out of the closet at Warrane was not at all a good idea. We often had guest speakers who would speak against same sex marriage,” he said.

He says that once he started dating, he left the college to avoid the “embarrassment of being asked to leave”.

“The Assistant Dean, would often call boys in the college ‘fags’ if they did something he considered flamboyant,” he said.

“I wish I had my Warrane rule book to show you but I’m pretty sure I burnt it when I left.”

Last year, a protest was held, calling upon Warrane College to cancel their annual lecture by MP Kevin Andrews, titled, ‘The Building Blocks of Western Civilisation: Reflections on Marriage and the Family’. The SRC believed Mr Andrews would talk about his opposition to marriage equality, and that this would offend some of the students at the College.

Students plan protest against Kevin Andrews’ anti-marriage equality lecture at conservative UNSW Warrane College

However, Andrew Bolt claimed that such action by the SRC displayed “arrogance”.

A new spirit of intolerance sweeps through our universities: Herald Sun

A male Basser College resident also claims that UNSW colleges hold events, themed ‘Office Hoes and CEOs’ and ‘Trannies and Trashbags’.

“Sexist behaviour happens in the College under the guise of tradition and ritual, and there’s a large pressure placed on students to take part, particularly at ‘Boys’ Night’ events,’” he said.

Friday night’s Baxter chant is not the only incident to have occurred in colleges at UNSW. It is also not the first time Australian university colleges have been condemned for sexist attitudes.

In 2009, students from the University of Sydney’s St Paul’s College set up an ‘anti-consent,’ ‘pro-rape’ Facebook page, categorised as ‘sports and recreation.’

The Facebook page was shut down, however multiple allegations arose in the wake of the event.

These allegations included multiple rapes, a college resident adviser having to use a master key to enter a room and stop a man from another college continuing to rape a student, and a pack of drunk, naked men breaking into a college and surrounding a young woman, touching and taunting her.

Elite college students proud of ‘prorape’ Facebook page: Sydney Morning Herald

The University of Sydney came under fire again in 2012, when 33 St John’s College students were suspended after a first-year female student was hospitalised because of an O-Week initiation ritual.

Culture of anarchy at a college in crisis: Sydney Morning Herald

The Baxter College incident on Friday night, and the resulting media attention, has shone a light on the way both colleges and universities deal with sexual harassment on campus.

The Women’s Collective, in their official statement, said that:

“Colleges have scheduled seminars and workshops about these issues with recognised professional leaders to promote a safe and respectful campus environment, which values and empowers women. The Student Representative Council is strategising with university management in a Working Group to improve policy around sexual assault and reporting. This working group has also organised a screening of controversial documentary ‘The Hunting Ground.’”

The Hunting Ground, directed by Kirby Dick, reveals the institutional cover-ups of sexual assaults on American college campuses.

The University of Sydney recently held a screening of the award-winning documentary on 7 April. However, the film played to an almost-empty bar after university management failed to promote or attend their own event.

In response, student representatives sent an email to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor did not respond to the letter, which stated:

“This is more broadly indicative of the University’s approach to sexual assault: acknowledging it as a problem only when there are political points to be gained.”

Meanwhile, as Baxter College and UNSW faced media attention yesterday, the University of Melbourne was also dealing with criticism of a sexist Facebook page.

Calls to remove ‘creepy’ Facebook page which ranks hot University of Melbourne students: Sydney Morning Herald

The page has 13,000 likes and rates the appearance of students attending the university, featuring comments such as: “This girl is a 0/10. I would not bang her even if they paid me.”

In February, a National Union of Students (NUS) survey found that 73 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their time at university and 27 percent have experienced sexual assault.

According to the NUS National Women’s Officer, Heidi La Paglia, the recent events at UNSW are indicative of a “culture at universities”, which promotes discrimination and sexism.

“While sexual assault and harassment does happen outside bro-culture of campus colleges … university accommodation complexes do exacerbate this behaviour and create an environment where sexual harassment and assault is normalised,” she said.

“It was great to see so many students from UNSW … taking a stand against this behaviour.”

Ms Dracakis met with University staff at the Chancellery yesterday afternoon to discuss the matter.

President and Vice Chancellor, Ian Jacobs released a statement to staff and students last night, expressing his dismay at the incident.

Full statement from the UNSW President and Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs

“The university has commenced an investigation into the matter and is taking steps to ensure that this sort of incident is not repeated,” he said.

“We will continue to work to ensure that this commitment is reflected in a culture and ethos on campus which is respectful to all.”

Tharunka also understands that Baxter’s Dean, Anthony McGirr, addressed college residents last night.

Last night, the Report Sexism, Respect Now site launched. The website, created by the SRC, features a form for students to submit anonymous or identified statements regarding their experiences, in an effort to bring awareness to cases of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The website also contains resources informing students on how to make a formal complaint at UNSW and access support services.

Student can access the website here: www.reportsexism.com

“The SRC is always looking for ways to support students and bring issues to light,” said Edward Bartolo, Acting SRC President.

“We look forward to shaping the culture at UNSW to stamp out any sexism.”

Tharunka will provide updates as these investigations continue.

 

A free screening of The Hunting Ground will be held on 2 May at 5:15pm, in Leighton Hall, Scientia building. The film will be followed by a panel discussion.

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-hunting-ground-australia-project-unsw-screening-2nd-may-tickets-21242729576.