The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed today’s release of a review into the seven residential colleges at the University of New England (UNE), with a suite of recommendations to assist in creating cultural change and building a safe and inclusive learning environment.
The Commission was engaged by UNE to undertake the independent review to develop a comprehensive understanding of the culture at each of the seven UNE colleges, specifically attitudes towards women, the factors that contribute to the risk of sexual assault and sexual harassment in UNE colleges, and barriers to reporting. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the review was indicative of UNE’s leadership and governance, noting a number of initiatives recommended by the Commission have already been implemented.
“It is very encouraging to see Vice Chancellor Annabelle Duncan and the University of New England take ownership in tackling these issues head-on,” Commissioner Jenkins said.
“I also sincerely thank the student residents and staff who participated in interviews and focus groups, completed the survey or made a submission. Their contribution and guidance has informed the findings and recommendations of this review.”
The Commission has made 28 recommendations to assist UNE to address the barriers and challenges that currently exist at its residential colleges, including after-hours professional support for residents and student leaders, increased counselling staff, enhanced approaches to alcohol consumption and a revised Residential Code of Conduct to strengthen responses to hazing.
The review follows the Commission’s 2017 release of Change the course: National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities, which found that while 7 per cent of the students who completed the survey across the 39 universities were living at university owned or affiliated accommodation, 34 per cent of students assaulted and 14 per cent of students sexually harassed were living in university accommodation.
As a result the Commission recommended universities with residential colleges and university residences should commission an independent, expert led review of the factors which contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment in these settings.
The Review identified some specific areas for action within colleges:
- Female students were two and a half times more likely to experience sexual harassment at college than male students.
- The majority of perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment were male residents and known to the victim.
- Sexual assault and sexual harassment occurs throughout the academic year, and is not restricted to high-risk periods such as Orientation Week (O-Week).
- Alcohol appears to play a prominent role in UNE college life, with some residents describing a ‘drinking culture’ that in some instances could be excessive, harmful and alienating.
“I have every confidence that UNE will continue to pioneer cultural change in residential colleges, and create an inclusive and safe education environment that allows its students to thrive,” Commissioner Jenkins said.
The Commission acknowledges that significant work has been undertaken in response to the Change the course report across Australia’s 39 Universities and will continue to support university action and monitor the implementation of recommendations.
The Commission’s report is available at https://www.une.edu.au/connect/news/2019/05/une-releases-independent-report-into-its-residential-college-system/