Disband these animal houses, block by sandstone block
I went to Sydney Uni, fell in love with a girl who attended one of the residential colleges and married her 10 years later. Our courtship didn’t start smoothly. One night, just as things began to get steamy for the first time, a vomit competition started up in the hallway outside her room.
Yes, a vomit competition. On the hallway carpet. A projectile vomit competition, to be precise. Don’t ask me how the contest worked. Maybe it was a distance thing. Maybe it had something to do with the ratio of carrot chunks. Either way, those competitive vomiters embodied (or should that be disembodied?) everything that is wrong with the old communal colleges in the sandstone universities.
This week, Sydney Archbishop George Pell announced he would step in and try to fix the ongoing mess at Sydney Uni’s St John’s College. His intervention comes after years of shameful incidents, including the near-death of a female student after an initiation ritual gone wrong. It’s a good move by Pell, but I’ve got a better one. Disband the colleges altogether.
Colleges like St John’s should be ripped down forever, and the darlings who attend them be made to fight the Sydney rental market like everyone else. Nowhere in Australia do people behave like such spoiled tossers, then escape into the wider community with their reputations intact.
These hallway vomiters, these big tough future pillars of society who habitually and ritually call women sluts and “Jets” (Just Excuse the Slag), these bullies with their humiliating initiation rites – all of them seem to escape even the mildest retribution except when things go really pear-shaped.
If they were footballers, they’d be on the front page of every paper. If they were schoolies, there’d be a similar outcry. Yet somehow we’ve developed a blind spot to these 18 to 22 year old grubs because they’re tucked away behind a spiky fence and a sandstone wall and the flimsy but stronger still facade of respectability.
The worst part is, these unchecked vandals and vomiters then one day enter the real world. Many go into industries like banking and finance and the law, where you can only assume some continue to treat the world in the same manner in which they treated it during their enlightened university years.
Collapsed banking system? Someone else’s problem, just like the vomit on the carpet. OK, so that analogy is a massive stretch, not to mention an inaccurate comparison as the Australian banking system is far from collapsed. Point is, it’s not just the picked-on Freshmen (and women) or the vomited-on carpets (and their cleaners) who are the victims of these outdated colleges. We all are, potentially.
There are now that many alternative accommodation arrangements on and off nearby uni campuses these days it’s not funny. Most arrangements are cheaper than colleges, and require a much greater level of responsibility from the residents. The Victorian exteriors should be maintained, but the old colleges renovated from the inside both architecturally and culturally.
The colleges are now anachronisms. They are like Hogwarts in Harry Potter, only instead of capes, the students wear – oh wait, some of them do wear capes – and instead of magic, they have alcohol. Mix that alcohol with a heady sense of entitlement and you have a cocktail for chaos.
Of course, the old boys who sit on the boards of colleges like St John’s can’t see any of this. They think the colleges are terrific and above all, “traditional”. Maybe they should try cleaning the carpet once in a while.
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