It’s been a while, three years in fact, since I walked amongst your grounds. Three years since my mother dropped me off inside your gates, a goodbye filled with hugs and tears but also the comforting thought that you would look after me — you promised that.
Five months ago I got a message from a friend: “Dude did you get the email from Marks?” It was followed by a link to a news article. My body started shaking and I felt cold, freezing cold to my bones — it was summer. I opened the article and my stomach was filled with an overwhelming mix of emotions — did I feel relieved that someone had finally spoken out? Or did I feel angry? Gut-wrenching, shaking hands angry. This is a feeling that comes back to me every time I read your name or think about that time three years ago, in fact as I sit here kilometres away from your gates writing this letter, I am met with that feeling once more.
I would take this time to tell you how your hazing affected me. I would take this time to tell you about how anxious it made me feel. I could tell you about the night I woke up in a toilet cubicle unaware of how long I’d been passed out for but gathering it must have been a while, judging by the kicking and yelling at the door. I could tell you about the boy you left on the Social Committee after he sent me 35 messages and 10 calls in a night coercing me into sex, I can tell you I said no more than once. I could tell you about the night I was put in a headlock while a boy forced himself onto me and how your Social Committee and students stood and laughed and egged him on… but I won’t, because I don’t have the time or the space and you already know these things don’t you?
So what has happened since that day, three years ago, hugging my mother goodbye at your gates, resting assured that I would have the best year of my life? Let me fill you in.
In March I opened that article and after I read it I shared it on my Facebook wall. I got so many comments and messages from collegians that I spent the following hours blocking, unfollowing and deleting them all.
Then I opened your email… It was an email filled to the brim with excuses and justifications. No apology. You wrote that you were seeking advice from lawyers; in the same email you offered support for students to make ‘a formal report in confidence’. I don’t feel comfortable to make a report to you, or the police — quite frankly I’m scared. I’m scared because every time victims have tried to speak up you have squashed us with threats and excuses and your students have harassed us and you still take no accountability. You deleted my comments from social media posts, only to follow up with an email inviting me for coffee.
Some students at uni organised a small demonstration against college hazing — your students met them in a sea of red and yellow. I’d call that intimidation.
I spoke with a journalist, Nina Funnel, who offered me support and counselling and I finally felt a bit of relief. I was participating in a silent, anonymous #MeToo campaign with victims and collegians from my year, all the way back to the 1980s. She also told me she had heard the name of one of my assaulters multiple times. Let that sink in. A journalist in another state had heard his name multiple times from multiple people. That makes me question how you could ever possibly not know how dangerous his behaviour was. You must have known?
Later I received a message from someone I went to college with asking me if I’d filled out the survey you had emailed collegians. She said “Please tell me I wasn’t the only one to tick the box saying I had seen sexual assault at college?” She wasn’t, but you never sent me that email to tick that box.
So a lot has happened. I have lost friends, I have lost sleep at night replaying events that happened that year. So much has happened that I have had to filter out a lot to make this open letter palatable and able to fit in the space of this student magazine.
You might be reading this and thinking all of the usual bullshit,
“You could have said no.”
“You didn’t have to participate.”
“Why did you never speak up while you were living with us?”
I’ll tell you why I didn’t say no, why I participated and why I didn’t speak up while I was there.
Three years ago my mother dropped me off inside your gates, a goodbye filled with hugs and tears but also the comforting thoughts that you would look after me — you promised that. I left my small town and was thrown into the chaos that is navigating a new city, making my first friends and going to university for the first time. I had no idea what to expect. That’s something you’ve used as an excuse before — that people know about the hazing before we come. I can tell you I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut, I tried to blend in, go to pub nights, the usual college experience and all you left me with was anxiety and hurt. I remember the first week I was with you, you planted an older boy as a ‘fresher’ and shaved his hair off when he retaliated. You did that to trick us, to manipulate us into going along with it all. How was I supposed to speak up after that? I remember the nights when we would all boo when someone refused to be ‘ponded’ (thrown in the pond). I remember the people you labelled as ‘ghosts’ because they didn’t participate in events. You run a cult not a college.
I was scared to speak then, and I’m still scared now.
That’s why I decided to write you this letter as a form of closure for me, and maybe a wake up call for you. You need to do better. Money and prestige won’t keep you alive forever, you need something more. You need accountability. I’m sad that I don’t get to look back on my first year of university with a smile and think of happy memories. You robbed me of that, and every day that you refuse to genuinely reach out to us, every day you don’t apologise, and everyday you ignore victims’ stories hurts us more and more.
You didn’t look after me.
You broke your promise.
If this letter has raised any concerns, you may contact Student Life Counselling Support at +61 8 8313 5663