These pillocks of society need a lesson in real life
What is it about sandstone that brings out the worst in 19-year-old future bankers, lawyers and captains of industry? Is it the architecture? Perhaps gothic gables bring out gothic tendencies.
With the exception of a slightly awkward-looking Tony Abbott (you can take the boy out of John’s…), the reaction to the latest revelations about the piglets inhabiting St John’s College at the University of Sydney, has been total condemnation. The rest of us understand, without having to have it explained to us, that what’s been going on there is bad.
But no one has been able to pin down the root cause of this particularly ugly brand of born-to-rule misogyny. Sure, the college administration has been woefully inadequate in dealing with the escalating PR disaster, and it seems equally unable, or unwilling, to rein in the young men who appear to have staged a coup.
Can it be that the very building itself is so toxic that a group of otherwise well-brought up, roundly educated young people can turn up there and before you can say “no means yes” Lord of the Flies breaks out?
It’s a similar question faced by the military top brass recently during the excruciating aftermath of the so called “skype sex scandal” at the military college Duntroon.
While the military has acknowledged serious cultural problems within its ranks, it can’t be held entirely to blame for the fact two of its brand new, wet-behind-the-ears recruits saw fit to film a sexual encounter with a woman, without her consent, and broadcast it to their mates in the next room.
What it can be held responsible for is the total inadequacy of the response to her complaint.
The point is, these young men, and some women, at John’s who have behaved in such an uncivilised way, surely can’t have been turned into little ghouls simply by virtue of their presence at the college - no matter how entrenched and dysfunctional its “traditions” may be.
There’s something about this group of people that when you add the first taste of freedom, rivers of grog, shared domestic arrangements and, shock of all shocks, member of the opposite sex, they find it impossible to contain their own bodily functions.
And none of those things on that list are to blame.
In the mid-90s I lived in a college at Wollongong Uni that was packed to its bessa block brim with young men and women who also had access to plenty of beer, plenty of freedom and, well, each other.
But the culture there bore absolutely no resemblance to the totally unenlightened shitfight at St John’s we’ve been reading about this week. Or the other stories over the years that have come out of other “sandstone” colleges around the country.
People got drunk. People had sex with each other. Parties went on until the next afternoon. All entirely normal behaviour for young adults in their first years of university.
But there was no “initiation”, or systemic bullying, or sanctioned misogyny, or accepted vernacular espousing the joys of date rape.
Maybe it was the lack of turrets, but I would say much more likely than that it was the demographics - more specifically the diversity of the demographics.
There were students from many different countries, rural students, people who went to public schools, people who went to private schools, people whose parents were scraping every penny they could find to help fund their children’s education, incredibly smart kids and some people who were not that bright. A lot of people had jobs to help pay their way.
Of course there were one or two complete dickheads, but they were not lauded as “untouchable”. They didn’t exert great influence over the atmosphere of the place. For want of a better word, this college built of brick on a wedge of land at the intersection of a freeway and a railway line was civilised.
It’s pretty clear diverse is not how you would describe the privileged men and women who inhabit the residential colleges at our big, old, universities. And civilised certainly doesn’t apply.
As well as the people who run these institutions, these kids’ parents, and the schools where they should have been taught how to live in a civilised society, have a lot to answer for. Or maybe it really is the wood panelling and the flying buttresses.
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