What happens on campus stays on campus?: Sexual violence in the University of Sydney

Madsen Building, The University of Sydney | Picture: Jason James


National Union of Students (NUS) women’s department 2015 study says that more than 70% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment while enrolled at their university, and 27% have experienced sexual assault. Are Australian universities doing enough to prevent these events?

For my feature article, I plan to write about sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. Specifically, I plan to address sexual harassment in the University of Sydney (USYD), and compare the statistics and experiences about it to the ones in the NUS Women’s department 2015 survey, Talk About It, which focuses on the experiences of women university students in Australia, and has a section dedicated to “sexual harassment”, “sexual assault”, and “reporting”.

While sexual harassment on college campuses is not anything new, lately, this topic is being discussed in several international media outlets because more women are speaking up about their experiences. With the creation of organisations like End Rape on Campus (also known as The IX Network), which works to end campus sexual violence; the premiere of the The Hunting Ground (THG) documentary, which chronicles sexual violence on American college campuses; and Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens to You, THG theme song, in the Academy Awards, the media and the public are starting to pay more attention to the issue.

The Hunting Ground – Official Trailer

As I mentioned before, for my article, I plan to use the NUS’ Talk About It results and compare these to a USYD equivalent. The equivalent of this study would be the Safer Community Survey, which was sent to all students on September, 2015 through email. This survey focuses on sexual and physical harassment on campus, and it also gave the community the opportunity to give feedback on institutional and community responses to sexual harassment and assault. The survey’s results, however, have not being published yet, so to get access to this information, I will try to interview one the women in charge of the investigation: either Jordi Austin, Director of Student Support Services, or Sophia Barnes, Student Experience Coordinator.

I also plan to analyse the “Safer Community for All” campaign, which encourages members of the USYD community to “speak out about unacceptable behaviour on campus”. To get more information about this campaign, and about how the University handles sexual assault cases, I plan to contact Student Affairs, USYD’s department in charge of emergencies and complaints, and specifically, Idena Rex (head of the Student Affairs Unit), or Rebecca O’Brien (in charge of student appeals, misconduct and progression).

To get the students (and victims) side of the story, I also want to contact the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Wom*n’s Department, which is in charge of the Wom*n’s Collective and the Wom*n of Colour Collective. They aim to represent and advocate for wom*n on campus, have organised campaigns against gendered violence, and have demanded the University to change the way it handles sexual assault cases. Preferably, I would like to interview Anna Hush-Egerton and/or Vanessa Song, who are the Wom*ens Officers.

Finally, I believe that an online publication interested in this would the weekly newspaper of the University of Sydney, Honi Soit, which has already published articles about sexual assault on campus (in LGBTQIA+ students and in female students). Honi Soit actually has a features section, and the way they publish features varies depending on the case. Some articles are more “traditional”, using mostly text, just one picture, tags, a list of resources (as “unlinked” urls) at the end, and options to share the story. Others, though, have a better presentation: they use more pictures, highlighted quotes, graphics, tags, sharing buttons, and are hosted on a platform that allows better readability. For this story, the second style might be the better, because the design is more engaging for the reader and it actually uses more characteristics of online journalism.

Name: Carmela Patricia Vera Mendoza

Student ID: 450422030

Word count: 641


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