Colleges don’t cause misogyny in young men
Colleges are being blamed for a culture we didn’t create. The focus is always on our worst behaviour. That’s understandable – it can get very bad, as events at Sydney University have shown.
But you can’t blame “college culture” and “tradition” - this is a youth culture which extends far past these privileged quadrangles.
The ‘tight and white’ wet t-shirt party could have been held at any backpacker hostel or suburban pub.
But the difference is that we’re not strangers – we’ll also make sure that our mates got home from the pub safely, that the homesick first years feel included, and that the sleazy guys (and girls) feel well ashamed of their behaviour.
This part of college culture is what most residents remember - the sense of community and togetherness that comes from living in a massive share house with your 200 best mates.
The college social calendar isn’t all drunken debauchery. You’re just as likely to make friends on the footy team, writing for college paper, in the chorus of the musical, cramming for exams together, playing guitar in the quad, collecting rubbish on Clean Up Australia Day or even just sitting around the breakie table with the Sunday newspapers.
We’ll share our textbooks, we’ll turn off the music at midnight, we’ll organise blood drives and grow Movember moustaches like you’ve never seen.
That said - there is a destructive mentality among many young people, and that’s bound to manifest itself in a college environment.
Put 200 young adults in one place and you’re guaranteed to encounter problems.
There are kids who develop alcohol problems, there are kids who fail at uni, and, sadly, there are some kids who are assaulted. I’m not trying to excuse such appalling behaviour – but I don’t think it’s fair to say that such things are the norm at college.
Critics are calling for colleges to take responsibility, to acknowledge a serious problem and fix it. But they already are - and I’d actually argue that colleges are doing more than other similar bodies to address these issues.
The National Association of Australian University Colleges is the peak body for university residences.
The executive, made up mostly of former college club presidents and leaders, provides support to all college communities. They offer advice on event management, risk management – how to identify problems and stop them before they play out.
At the annual NAAUC conference student leaders from every Australian college come together to discuss issues which have arisen at their universities and to share strategies for dealing with these problems.
There are workshops and experts speaking on topics ranging from alcohol to harassment to homesickness to organised sport. A big focus of this year’s conference was on socialising without alcohol.
But delegates tell me that some of the most productive discussion happened outside of the workshops and lectures. It’s not like these students are being told how to behave – they want to work together to find solutions themselves and to create the kind of positive communities that they want to live in.
There are other bodies working to help colleges too.
The Red Frogs movement, which began as an outreach program for at the Gold Coast for Schoolies Week, will come to any college event to help identify and counsel students who aren’t having a fun time. With lollies as icebreakers, they’re able to talk to students who might be afraid to admit to their peers that they have a problem with college life.
Colleges are also supported by university management. Some Melbourne University colleges have started to draw up detailed risk management plans for events with alcohol, based on a template provided by the University.
Students are also able to access the professional counselling services and medical centres located on campus.
At the end of the day, though, even the most amazing and sensible 18-25 year olds will make mistakes. The best youth management policies acknowledge that kids will do what they want, and that sometimes, the best you can hope for it to be there when they fall.
College isn’t for everyone, but it’s a safe space to make the mistakes that you’re going to make. A college community creates an amazing support network.
It’s comforting to know that when life goes wrong, that you have the non-judgmental support and the unconditional love of your friends.
And there’s nowhere I’d rather fall at the end of a crappy night out than within the walls of my Queen’s College castle, with my best mates to tuck me in.
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