Emily Rayers talks about colleges and the NUS ‘Talk About It’ survey

CLEO magazine may not be the most traditional source of reliable or feminist journalism but this month’s Undercover at O-Week feature certainly hit the nail on the head for me. While news coverage of college culture always involves an element of sensationalism and relies on a weird fascination with young adults as opposed to genuine concern for their wellbeing, I have no doubt that the information presented by the media is true and comes from honest sources.

I attended two of the Sydney colleges, starting at a mixed college fresh out of high school and returning 18 months later to a single sex college. I look back on my college experiences with mixed emotions, feeling grateful for the opportunity to make lifelong friends, nostalgic for the excitement of the first few Wednesday nights at the Sals (the bar at St Paul’s) and discomfort with many aspects of the behaviour of the student body.

Processing and articulating my discomfort with various things that occurred during my college experience was very difficult at the time due to the pressure from the Student’s Club and from admin to keep all complaints insular and never to speak to media. In a less official manner the separation of college students from ‘Muggles’ creates a social situation where your good friends are other college students and doesn’t foster discussion with external viewpoints. It is also really difficult as someone new to party culture and to university and college to separate the fun, excitement and adventure from the aspects of it that frighten or worry you.

In order to allow students in university accommodation to speak up we need a system that holds colleges accountable and forces them to be transparent. We need external systems for handling complaints and opportunities for students to lodge anonymous or general grievances without naming perpetrators or identifying themselves. Speaking up in college means ostracizing yourself from your peers, and the majority of 18 year olds – myself included – value fitting in above speaking out.

I urge all women students, whether living at university accommodation or not, to participate in the ‘Talk About It’ survey developed by the National Union of Students. This is the second time the survey has been open for submissions and it is vital that we have a significant number of responses to work with. All questions need to be answered in order to submit but feel free to answer with ‘I do not wish to answer’ or ‘I have no response for this question’ if you are uncomfortable with any of them.

Find the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/talkaboutit2012 and help us to make this campus a safer and more respectful place for all students.

If you are interested in being more involved in Women’s Collective or would like to contribute ideas or information for our campaigns email: usydwomenscollective@gmail.com, tweet @SRCwomens or join our Facebook group ‘USyd Women’s Collective’.

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