The University of Sydney response to The Red Zone report and how effective is the Consent Matters module

What corrective actions did The University of Sydney take after The Red Zone report accusations and is the Consent Matters module culturally appropriate to the Australian context

The Quadrangle. Credit: Arwa Abdulmunem

High school students cannot wait to finish school and begin their new journey, university. Freshmen’s initial experience of university life begins with orientation week, also known as O-Week. It involves many exciting activities for new students, such as; welcome events, workshops and information sessions and parties for freshers to engage with other students. The University of Sydney also promises freshmen of similar events, like “receiving a royal welcome”.  However, these students little did they know what awaits them. The truth behind orientation week is, students locked up in a dark room and dead rotten fish thrown at them, students are forced to sit cross-legged on filthy ground and if they move or talk, they are yelled at and forced to scull alcohol, “door-knocking” where male students knock on girls’ dorm rooms at around 3 am trying to gain access for sex and other hazing and disturbing practices and sexual violence according to The Red Zone report that was published on the 28thof February 2018. 

The Red Zone report cover page | credit:APO

These sexual harassments and alcohol-fuelled hazing rituals have been going on for 90 years at the University of Sydney five residential colleges; St Andrew’s College, St John’s College, Sancta Sophia College, Wesley College and The Women’s College. According to former sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick Project, out of 1001 surveyed students, 19 per cent reported that they had experienced sexual harassment and bullying or intimidation since commencing at a residential college at the University of Sydney.   

The Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia released “Respect. Now. Always.” Report on the 1stof August 2017 that includes detailed student sexual assault and sexual harassment survey for the University of Sydney. According to the report, 31 per cent of students were sexually harassed at university in 2016, in which 40 per cent are women and 17 per cent men.

At the start of semester 1, 2018 the Vice-Chancellor sent emails to all students assuring them that students’ safety is the university’s top priority. He said, “All students have the right to feel safe on our campuses.” The email also includes links and helpline service number for students if they need support and in case of emergency.

Dr. Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney spoke to ABC’s 7:30 in response to The Red Zone report. He said, “the colleges are independent institutions, they’re not governed by the university” but he reassured that the university is open to anything that will bring cultural change to this issue. The 7:30 report also includes stories of two current Sydney University students who spoke out for the first time about their experience while staying at the university residential colleges; Gabbie Lynch and Justine Landis-Hanley.

Furthermore, the University of Sydney spokesperson said “The University does not tolerate any unlawful conduct, and according to the Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy 2015 and Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Resolution Procedures 2015, a student found in breach may face consequences including fines, suspension, and expulsion. Staff or affiliates found in breach may face disciplinary action or termination of employment.”

The University of Sydney released a media statement in response to The Red Zone report, stating 

“The University of Sydney is aware of some of the accusations in the report and it is for this reason that we are working with the colleges and Liz Broderick and her team on improving campus culture for the University and five of its residential colleges.”

In response to the report, the university implemented some corrective actions to ensure a safer campus, including; implementing a helpline (1800) for students to gain more accessible access to various security levels such as campus security, support services, reporting channels and external 24-hour help and an anonymous call back service. In addition, the university collaborated with the NSW Rape Crisis Centre to provide training to students and staff including counselors, helpline staff, and campus security. Moreover, the university created a publication, specialist advice, and support for students, to increase awareness for staff for balance students’ confidentiality and mandatory reporting.

The University of Sydney imposed alcohol strategies that were authorized during orientation week of semester 1 2018 which included updating its alcohol policy to align with the best practice. Such as minimizing alcohol related harm to the person.

In addition to these new methods, all commencing students at the university, whether starting or transferring a new course are required to undertake a Consent Matters module, which is an online module that is developed by a collaboration of academics and independent consultants and sexual health professionals in the UK that outlines the basics of sexual consent. It also includes a quiz where students need to score a 100 per cent in order to pass it and will have to redo it as many times as necessary if they do not. The module should be completed before the 31stof March 2018, otherwise students will not be able to access their Canvas site. However, the module received some criticism from the media, academics, students and sexual assault experts.

Screenshot from the Consent Matters module

The National Union of Student’s Women’s department and the university of Sydney’s students’ representative council and the university of Sydney’s women’s collective have told The Australianthat the consent matters module will not do anything to improve the culture of consent and the university should instead provide prevention education.

SRC president Imogen Grant explained that the university used the consent module as a quick and cheap way to fix the criticism they have received over its way of handling a sexual assault accusation that happened inside the campus.

Nina Funnell, the author of The Red Zone Report told news.com that the consent module is tokenistic and will not make any meaningful changes to the sexual assault issue and that face to face training provided by experts for students and staff is a better way than “tick the box” online course. Some students pointed out that the module is time consuming and they experienced a default in the trial quiz where they did not need to actually tick an answer to pass through to the next stage of the course.

Screenshot from the Consent Matters module

Students have also complained that if the module is not finished within a time frame, they are automatically logged out and their answers are lost even though the instruction states “your progress will be saved as you go”

The Consent Matter module is brought in from the UK rather than developed on campus with experts. So, who’s values is it based on? how culturally appropriate the material is to the Australian context? It is a multicultural campus and there are students from all over the globe and assuming there is a set way to react is not very effective

However, in response to the criticism over the Consent Matters module, Vice-Chancellor released a statement “The University makes no apology for opening up discussion on consent and trying to help our students navigate this difficult area. Sexual assault and harassment are very difficult and confronting issues being faced by all universities as well as the broader community.”

Did you manage to complete consent module? If you did, did you find it effective?

Did you manage to complete consent module? If you did, did you find it effective?
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About Arwa Abdulmunem 3 Articles
Media Practice postgraduate student at The University of Sydney. Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietitian. Contact aabd0588@uni.sydney.edu.au

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