The toxic culture at Sydney University’s colleges

SHOCKING acts are happening behind closed doors and the sex and drinking cultures are forcing victims out one by one.

Skolling beers, having sex and a “private school boy” mentality are almost the only ways to survive at Wesley and St John’s colleges, in Camperdown, an inner western suburb of Sydney.

People who live in these colleges don’t want to talk about what’s going on. They fear they’ll be ostracised for revealing the dark secrets and traditions.

But there are some who have only lasted a few months in these colleges, simply because they could not hack the hazing, drinking and sex culture, and they will speak out about the dangerous activities that can traumatise students well into the future.


Jo, not her real name, went to Sydney University in 2011 and moved into Wesley College. It was meant to be a new beginning, but she quickly found herself trapped in a nightmare, she told news.com.au.

Just walking to class could be scary at times. Jo would be pinned down on the floor by other Wesley College students and people she didn’t even know. Wine would be poured into her mouth and she had no control to fight it.

The hazing was especially bad. Students once broke into her room and trashed it. All her belongings were hurled off her bedroom balcony and horrific messages were scrawled on her mirror with lipstick.

Wesley College told news.com.au it had rigorous policies, guidelines and protocols for its resident students on many topics, including sexual harassment, and all allegations reported about sexual harassment and assault are taken seriously.

“We do not tolerate behaviour that is harassing or discriminatory,” a Wesley College spokeswoman said.

O-Week, known as “Initiation Week” at Wesley, was a particularly disturbing time for Jo.

“Once we had found our groups we were given our ‘fresher’ names which were all incredibly insulting,” she said. “These names included things like ‘fresher mullet’, which they (seniors) explained was given to the ugliest fresher girl that year.

“One boy in my group was given the name ‘fresher bubblegum’ which meant that when people had finished with their chewy they could push it into his hair.

“The poor guy ended up having to shave his head and even then he still had patches missing where he had to cut the chewing gum out of his hair.”

Jo was placed in the “gold group”, which she later found out meant the “nude group”.

“As part of our initiation, our group was told to strip down into just their undies, no bras for the girls,” she said.

“The guys had to get completely naked and run around all the other groups of freshers, none of which we had actually met yet.

“I told the girl team leader that I didn’t feel comfortable taking my bra off but that I would be willing to run in my bra and undies. She then told me to basically suck it up because everyone else was doing it and it was all just a bit of fun.”

Jo said they were always told if they didn’t want to do something, they would not be forced.

“But this was not the case,” she said. “The next day after a very long night of heavy drinking, one of the girls was told to do a ‘goon layback’ which is where the fresher lays on their back and opens their mouth and the older students pour goon (cask wine) into their mouth until they can no longer drink anymore.

“Being very hungover, this girl said she didn’t want to do the goon layback because she felt sick from drinking the night before and she said no several times but the older team leaders pressured her into doing it in the end.”

Jo was never a victim of sexual assault but she said there was definitely a sex culture at the college.

One of the O-Week events was a “bait cruise” where a fresher girl was chosen by a third or second year student as their “bait” for the night. Fresher boys were also chosen by second and third year female students.

She said binge drinking was rampant across the college and she found it hard to get up for class after big college parties.

She ended up failing 100 per cent of her subjects in the first semester.

Jo said she became stressed by the college culture and tried to speak to the head of the college at the time about how she felt bullied and pressured and how she didn’t like the culture.

“She just told me that I was depressed and sent me to see the counsellor and then moved my roommate out of my room because she didn’t want her to be around my bad mood or influence,” she said.

“The culture will never change when all the heads of the college have to have attended that college during university.”


One of Jo’s friends who visited her at the college described it as revolting.

“I was walking around for half an hour trying to find a toilet that was usable because they were all covered in vomit and blood and s***,” Jo’s friend told news.com.au.

Wesley College was described as a constant hell, where everyday people had to succumb to horrific hazing.

Earlier this year a journal created at Wesley College called “Rackweb” was leaked and it slut-shamed women and called them b*****s and h**s.

University magazine Pulp said women were named under categories such as “best a***”, “best cleavage”, “biggest pornstar” and “kinkiest collegian”.

Students named in the Rackweb anonymously told ABC’s 7.30 program there was no consent to having their names made public.

“It was just kind of expected of us that it was part of college, it was a part of a tradition that all of us would just be OK with it being published in the journal.”

Another student from the college told 7.30 that during O-Week “freshers” were woken up at 5am and told to run back and forth on their hands and knees.

“People were put in rows and people who were — they read out names that had hooked up the night before and they were told to kiss in front of everyone,” she said.

Sydney University’s colleges are money makers and gold mines.

Students pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to live there and they are not administrated by Sydney University, making it difficult for the university to step in.

The 7.30 program reported the university’s Vice Chancellor Michael Spence asked Wesley College to provide the names of the people who printed the journal, but the college did not because of privacy issues.

Two months later, Sydney University’s women’s officer Anna Hush says still nothing has been done about it.


The toxic culture at Wesley also bleeds into another Sydney University college, St John’s, where both former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former Treasurer Joe Hockey spent their university years.

Former student Zac, not his real name, left the college in 2010 after spending only a year there.

“I didn’t fit in well, not having gone to a fancy private school in Sydney,” he told news.com.au.

“One of the first things they ask is where you went to school and obviously I didn’t fit the bill to begin with — I was on the outside of the group.”

Zac said he also had to work away on weekends to help fund his education and was ostracised from the private school boys as the year progressed.

He didn’t want to drink as much as the other boys, and that made it increasingly difficult for him to live there.

“There was a big drinking culture. O-Week was disgusting,” Zac told news.com.au. “People weren’t really pushy about it if you didn’t want to do it, but there was that group mentality that you should.”

Zac said students who were more senior had a duty of care to make sure “freshers” did not drink to excess, but those students organised drinking events constantly.

The group mentality is, the people worth knowing at college are the ones who party, if you don’t, you’re on the outer.

Zac said there was a bit of hazing in the college.

“After sporting games there were kangaroo courts and people would get fines for doing silly things on the sporting field,” he said. “The fines involve drinking.”

Another notorious hazing prank is the “walkabout”, where seniors would drive college students to the middle of nowhere and leave them there with little or no belongings.

The students then had to find their own way back.

“It sounds terrifying. It’s not a nice culture,” Ms Hush, the women’s officer said.

She’s heard stories of what went on in colleges, but not even she knows the full extent of what goes on.

“Internally incidents are being swept under the rug. There’s so much money and power coming from the colleges,” Ms Hush said.

“They are so insular, it is hard to get a sense of what’s happening in the colleges.

“Occasionally stories do come out but so much goes on and goes unreported that we will never know about. It’s a really scary thing.”

Ms Hush said one of the worst things about the colleges were the social hierarchies, that led to things such as the initiation rituals. They vary college to college but usually involve drinking and various sexual conquests.

Ms Hush said college was hard for women and a lot of them stayed silent about incidents out of fear of being shunned by college bullies.

“It takes a few years after graduation for them to look back on it and see it for what it is,” she said. “For those who have been sexually assaulted at college it’s terribly traumatic and there are no support systems in place and no sexual assault councillors.

“It’s alienating to have to go through that.”

Ms Hush said it was a massive problem that couldn’t be ignored, and that is even reflected in statistics.

This week, figures released by university newspaper Honi Soit revealed there were 340 sexual assaults on Sydney University campus each year.

That is nearly one a day.

“It’s shocking and absolutely an epidemic and universities have failed to take it seriously,” Ms Hush said.

St John’s college did not respond to news.com.au’s requests for comment.



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