Friday, 18 September 2009

I worked at Sydney University for six years until recently and often had the chance to walk past St Paul's College. The residential college is located down a sweeping driveway leading to City Road. The driveway and a contiguous path give access to other parts of the campus, where often I had the need to go. As I walked under the trees and past the gorgeous sports oval I noticed the new metal gates installed to keep out intruders.

Recent stories giving the cons and pros of residential college life brought back memories and I wonder if gates might better be placed somewhere to keep college residents out of the campus! Because the old habits from my year at St Paul's in 1981 seem to remain unchanged.

Not once, as I went about my business as a university employee, I saw young men carrying slabs of beer into the college. More memories. Drinking was - and still is, it seems - a dominant form of recreation at college. It wasn't just beer. Tequila shot contests went on into the early hours and I remember the groups of drunken men wandering around the grounds as I tried to sleep, bleating out their inane warcries, looking for a little action.

St Paul's is located next door to Women's College. On many occasions, the Paul's boys would go on a 'raid' into Women's, trying to effect ingress and barraging down the halls looking for someone on whom to inflict their boisterous energy.

If you didn't take part in these activities you were labelled an outsider and punished accordingly. I came back to college one day after attending lectures to find the entire contents of my dorm room deposited - intact and everything in place - on the lawn of one of the quads. A friend helped to restore order into my life, but the feeling of helplessness for the stigmatised was a real threat to personal happiness.

College hazing is part of the deal. 'Freshers' - year-one students, or 'freshmen' - are subject to an institutional form of hazing when they are 'auctioned' one August evening. Second- and third-year students 'buy' freshers so that they can take them out into the wilds of NSW one night and wait for them to return to college. The residents who had bought the fresher who returns last of all wins a cash prize derived from the proceeds of the auction.

I admittedly gained a high price. But I had a surprise in store for my tormentors. They make you dress in your full academic robe - and it's winter, after all - and take a shower while they search your clothes for contraband such as cash. But I rolled two five-dollar notes into pipes and held them under my toes during the shower. The fivers came in handy, later, when we had to buy rail tickets.

Suffice it to say we were not the last to return. But institutionalised hazing like this, accompanied by a strict code of enforced conformism when it came to participating in extracurricular college activities meant that anyone who didn't fit the standard 'drink-til-you-spew' mold lived in a constant state of anxiety.

I guess it toughened us up. But I left after a year. The prospect of buying my own fresher was not enticing and I moved, mercifully, into a small flat in Glebe from where I could walk to uni unmolested, unnoticed, and unworried. It was bliss and I had a couple of very productive years not only studying by making art and reading American literature voraciously.

A room of my own, sans fiends.


ZoriN said...

Well I'm glad to say that at ANU at least, there's no hazing. I think universities have cracked down on hazing cos it was giving the a bad name.

Matt da Silva said...

Well, I hope so. It's dangerous and stupid.