Content Warning: This article includes a graphic poem about sexual assault.
St John’s College within the University of Queensland has today announced that it will be appointing as its Warden the former Master of St Mark’s College in Adelaide, a college which has previously been lambasted by the media for sexual assaults and racism.
Rose Alwyn has held the top job at St Mark’s College since 2008. In that time, the college has been scandalised for hazing, racist and holocaust-themed parties, and sexual assault.
Last year, 60 Minutes interviewed a former student Aria Kirwan who alleged that hazing was occurring at the college, to which the response from St Mark’s was to dismiss the report as “distorted, misleading and sensationalised”.
Ms Kirwan was also threatened with a defamation lawsuit at the time.
60 Minutes then followed up with another episode including interviews with two students who had experienced sexual assault during their time at St Mark’s, and presented video evidence of what they called the “toxic culture” at the college.
In last year’s Red Zone Report by Nina Funnell, an investigation into the prevalence of sexual violence in university residential colleges which was put together by End Rape on Campus Australia, St Mark’s was noted for its O-Week hazing.
The Red Zone Report drew attention to a 2013 O-Week magazine by St Mark’s students, with poems heroically describing older residents of the college as sexually violent. With poems as follows:
“… you fresher girls quiver
As he rams his hard dick up into your liver
And while you lie yelping and bleeding in pain
You find yourself shouting and screaming his name.”
The Red Zone Report also included a table of points that were on offer for sleeping with certain older college residents.
Rose Alwyn herself called the 2013 O-Week magazine “abhorrent”, “deplorable”, and “against the values of the college” in an interview with Triple J’s Hack. However, she also said that this was only indicative of 2013 being one bad year.
In truth, however, an O-Week magazine with similarly disturbing content was released in 2015.
60 Minutes also revealed that the 2018 O-Week hazing rituals included a student-led “sex tour” of St Mark’s. During this sex tour, television screens played pornography while couples simulated sex acts. Naked men also walked around the college. One first year female student quit the college after being surrounded and forced to undress for male students.
The college responded by sending three of the boys involved in the nudity and pornography to “a three-hour workshop on gender equity, sexual harassment, and what it means to be an ethical bystander”. St Mark’s did not punish anyone for forcing the girl to undress, but sent the matter to the South Australian Police.
The Sexual Violence
Last year, the University of Adelaide’s student newspaper On Dit published an open letter to St Mark’s from an anonymous survivor of sexual assault from the College.
In it, the anonymous author explains why the behaviour of the administration of St Mark’s did not make her feel comfortable reporting her sexual assault.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she said.
Red and yellow are the college colours.
In the same letter, she writes that journalist Nina Funnell from End Rape on Campus Australia, 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,” she said.
St Mark’s students have previously been photographed attending official college parties in blackface and anti-semitic costumes.
A student told Nina Funnell for news.com.au last year that the college’s annual Garden Party, held at the college, is “an event where there are no rules regarding sexual or gender discrimination, racism and bullying.
“St Mark’s is a community that creates its own rules in relation to everything and often these are the opposite of the ‘good’ values society tries to teach children.
“Most people aim to mock religion, lower socio-economic individuals, promote drug use, and primarily to dress as ‘funny’ puns.”
The college declined the opportunity to comment.
The Student Response
Matt Boughey was the 2018 President of the University of Adelaide’s Student Representative Council. Mr Boughey met with Ms Alwyn three times over two months early last year. He described Ms Alwyn’s relationship with the SRC as “toxic to say the least.”
“She was always very adversarial when dealing with me and the women’s officer. I never got the sense that she wanted to work with us,” Mr Boughey said.
“It came to the point – after a bit of early media pressure – that she cut communication entirely and left it to the student leaders at the College. She was always behind the scenes though,” he said.
So why would they appoint her?
That’s a question we can’t find an answer to.
In their announcement, the St John’s College Council says that Ms Alwyn will “oversee a complete review of the College’s corporate governance with due focus on organisational improvements across the board”.
But Mr Boughey told Semper that even Ms Alwyn’s business track record was not thought highly of in Adelaide.
“She had a very, very poor relationship with the leadership of other SA Colleges. There were numerous times she was thrown under the bus during Committee meetings and the declining numbers in SA Colleges were blamed upon her and her mismanagement,” he said.
Ms Funnell told Semper that “of all the colleges, I considered St Mark’s College during the time of her leadership to have had the most toxic culture of any college I have looked at.”
“I am perplexed that St John’s College would even contemplate this appointment,” she said.