Protest against rape and sexual hazing at St Mark’s met by opposing group of St Mark’s collegians

Words by Ethan Penglase

Earlier this week, the Adelaide University Student Representative Council launched its campaign “Break the Silence: Keep College Students Safe”.

The campaign was launched after a 60 Minutes episode exposed a culture of debauchery and bullying at St Mark’s College.

“A spotlight has been shone into shocking instances of hazing, ritualistic humiliation and sexual misconduct taking place in residential colleges in South Australia” said SRC President Matthew Boughey.

In response, the SRC has demanded that:

1) the St Mark’s College Board of Directors be dissolved.

2) South Australian Colleges take appropriate steps to ban all hazing activities.

3) the University of Adelaide work with South Australian Colleges to improve their policies and procedures, so they are survivor-centric with clear disciplinary procedures for offenders.

4) the University of Adelaide introduce a mandatory sexual consent course for all students to open up a dialogue around consent, rape culture and sexual harassment.

The first demand has already been met. The Advertiser reported this morning that Richard Burchnall will be stepping down as Chairman of the Board at a Council meeting to be held in July. The Council will also be appointing a new College Board at the meeting.

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SRC presence at protest. Left to right: Mature Age Officer Samuel Lambert, Disabilities Officer Tim Hilhorst, Acting Women’s Officer Tahlia Penn, President Matthew Boughey, Welfare Officer Ali Amin, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer Tanya Hunter.

But many collegians aren’t happy with the SRC’s campaign. They feel that the campaign has gone beyond simply looking out for victims of sexual violence and is attacking the integrity of St Mark’s and the students that live there.

Taking to Facebook group “Overheard at the University of Adelaide”, one collegian commented that she would never disregard anyone’s accusation of sexual assault but that to say St Mark’s has a “toxic rape culture” is “utterly barbaric”.

Another member of the group commented that sexual assault cannot be blamed on culture because it is “an individual choice”.

Minutes obtained by On Dit show that, during a meeting with Adelaide Uni’s student leadership, St Mark’s College Club President Benjamin Massey denied that there is a rape culture at St Mark’s.

When asked by former SRC Women’s Officer Tamsin Anspach why the online vitriol and accusations of lying directed at sexual assault survivors at St Mark’s doesn’t count as rape culture, Massey said he did not support those comments.

St Mark’s College Club Secretary Evie de Jager said collegians were simply defending their home.

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At 1PM outside the Adelaide University Hub today, National Union of Students’ National Women’s Officer Kate Crossin led a protest against St Mark’s alleged neglect of sexual assault survivors and unwillingness to clean up the toxic culture.

SRC Acting Women’s Officer Tahlia Penn spoke at the protest, saying that Aria Kirwan is thankful that people believe her and are standing up for change.

Kirwan came forward earlier this year alleging that she was forced to undress for older males at St Mark’s Orientation Week.

The protest was observed by a group of St Mark’s collegians donned in the colours of the College. It is unclear what their purpose was as they gave no speeches, held no signs nor made any chants.

College Club Secretary Evie de Jager was among the group.

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St Mark’s group. As On Dit took this photo, one member of the group mockingly remarked “did you get our consent to take that?” and was met by laughter from other members.

The St Mark’s group refused to engage with On Dit.

At the protest, Boughey denied that the SRC was personally attacking College students. He addressed the St Mark’s group directly, saying that he makes “no apologies for standing up for survivors of sexual assault or rape.”

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SRC President Matthew Boughey. St Mark’s College Club President Benjamin Massey watches from the distance.

“I will not apologise for dragging your College’s reputation through the dirt” remarked Boughey. “And I make no apologies for wanting to see hazing banned in every single college in Australia.”

Massey stated that he is not aware of any hazing occurring at St Mark’s.

“How many people have to have their lives ruined and drop out of university before we say it outweighs the positive experiences of other students?” asked student advocate Declan Price-Brooks.

Penn described the collegians’ response as “cult like”.

Boughey said that the “counter-protest” was “disgraceful”.

“We’ve seen three survivors come forward now and say they’ve been sexually assaulted, hazed and raped at the College. For them [St Mark’s group] to come out, dressed in their attire, in some form of fucked up solidarity is pretty disgraceful.”

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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