An investigation by the former sex discrimination commissioner has revealed a number of disturbing details about the culture at elite University of Sydney college St Paul’s, with sexual harassment and degrading initiation rituals among the matters that have come to light.

Elizabeth Broderick released the details of her investigation yesterday as part of a “cultural review” of St Paul’s, which was ordered by the college and the university after a number of other similar reviews into the culture of other USYD residential colleges.

The full report is available to read here, and includes a number of eye-opening details about college life. The report describes a party known as the ‘Bone Room’, which was held after college victories. Quoting from student newspaper Honi Soit, it says:

“The Paul’s boys secretly invite women to the party, one woman for each man. They have
normally never met. The women are instructed to wear fancy dress, and their date for the
evening arrives in a matching costume … Attendees are wined and dined at [a Thai Restaurant], before being led to the Rogers Room [in St Paul’s]. Some women described the room as full of mattresses … [O]ften the women and men are total strangers. At the O Week Bone Room, this pressure is compounded by the fact that the girls have only arrived on campus a week before.”

It also describes a practice of chanting racist and sexist verses around a fire pit on valedictory nights:

“On Valedictory dinners, the rugby boys would chant not very nice things about women and other cultures around a fire pit – things you wouldn’t say to your mum. I found it so uncomfortable to be there. I left the fire pit. I believe it stopped while I was at the College.”

Through confidential interviews, the team behind the report also uncovered a number of disturbing initiation rituals for freshers, some of whom say they were made to stand in buckets of ice-cold water, eat sheep hearts and crawl up stairs with sacks over their heads.

Dr Don Markwell, the head of St Paul’s, said that he and the college are “ashamed” of certain details revealed in the report, and apologised to students who had negative experiences there. In a statement obtained by Hack, he wrote:

“The Broderick Report shows that, while there is much for the College to be very proud of, including considerable progress in many areas, there are also aspects to be ashamed of. We apologise unreservedly for any harm done to anyone by unacceptable behaviour by any members of the College, past or present, and where we have failed to take the strongest stance we could against such behaviour. We are utterly determined to be leaders in preventing and responding strongly to sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. We are equally determined to uphold the values of respect and dignity for all, regardless of gender.”

Earlier this year, the parents of Stuart Kelly called for university hazing to be outlawed, claiming he was driven to suicide by relentless bulling while he attended the St Paul’s college.

Stuart, whose brother Thomas Kelly was killed in a one-punch attack, attended the college for a short time, but his parents believe he was assaulted while staying there, and have also called for an inquest.

USyd has said that it would support an inquest if it were to go ahead.

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