Cultural renewal at St Mark’s College and an eye to the future for university residential colleges and halls

Presentation by the Master, Ms Rose Alwyn and immediate Past President of University Colleges Australia (UCA) at the annual conference held in Hobart 26 – 28th September 2018.

We are all aware that cultures of residential colleges and halls have recently come under the spotlight in Australia and around the world.

This has been the dominating external influence on my time as President of UCA, and on the last few years as Master at St Mark’s College.

We all know that most of what is reported in the news is not reflective of what occurs in everyday life in a collegiate residence.

UCA remains firm and consistent in statements regarding the landscape with respect to sexual misconduct, and it has not, and has never been the remit of the national body to micro-examine the circumstances around individual and independent colleges.

St Mark’s College is not perfect, and I acknowledge and accept where my College has failed its students in the past. We are deeply sorry that those students, who, for whatever reasons, were not able to reach out for support within the College at the time.

It is a matter of record, that any student who witnesses or experiences any form of sexual misconduct at St Mark’s College will be listened to, they will be believed, and they will be supported. We want all our students to take their responsibilities as ethical bystanders seriously and to continue to promote a culture where it is safe to report.

I am not here today to debate the voracity of the allegations aired so publicly, nor am I here to discuss the analogies to McCarthyism and the Crucible.
And, this is not the forum to discuss the appropriateness – or otherwise – of the media’s behaviour or motivation.

What I want to discuss this morning was set out skilfully in the lecture that our keynote speaker, Professor Rufus Black, delivered when he was Master at Ormond College, in 2017 as part of the St Andrew’s College sesquicentenary celebrations. Rufus said:

“at times like this we must not lose our nerve – and that the task of leadership is to assert the substantiveness of what a College is about and not allow it to be an unhealthy cocktail of traditions that reflect an understanding of social relations long recognised as at best limiting of human development and at worse concealing egregious violations of human decency”

In addition to Rufus’ lecture more generally, those words continue to resonate strongly with me, and form the challenge for what I intend to speak about:
• St Mark’s’ response to recent reviews and our process of cultural renewal;
• the need for colleges to convey the message to the public to regain its trust and confidence; and
• the importance – now – more than ever before, for colleges to distinguish themselves even further from the plethora of ‘student housing’ which is emerging across Australia.

The Master’s address can be read in full here.