Selwyn College

Otago University’s Selwyn College ends its ‘sexist and bullying’ tradition

“Both the board and college leaders have been crystal clear this behaviour cannot continue.”

Otago University halls of residence Selwyn College has shut down its controversial tradition of second years secretly voting on and publicly awarding nicknames to freshers at their AGM after previous recipients accused the awards of being “sexist and bullying”. Among the awards were “best rack,” “awkward chat,” and “blowjob lips”.

Selwyn College board of governors chair Aaron Douglas said that “the Selwyn College leaders and the Board of Governors have been extremely disturbed to discover the Selwyn College Students’ Association Inc. committee held its annual general meeting this year and awarded first-year students inappropriate nicknames.”

“Both the board and college leaders have been crystal clear this behaviour cannot continue. The student association president gave the Selwyn College board of governors – during its recent meeting – a strict assurance the nicknaming will never happen again and has agreed to have college leaders as observers at their future AGMs to ensure no more students are faced with inappropriate behaviour. This student committee is being told any meetings held without consultation could result in possible dismissal from the college.”

“The college warden has spoken to all students who received nicknames to check on their well-being and will take any appropriate action. The association president is going to write letters to all those given nicknames this year and apologise for any harm or upset these may have caused. The activity had been passed on from the previous student committee and no thought had been given to the possible consequences. We emphasise that bullying is not tolerated at the college, in any shape or form.”

First-year students were called up in front of the college and awarded their name. They were not told what the name meant or why they had been given it until after the event. The names were codes. Black Rabbit meant ‘Best Rack,’ Burgundy Lemur meant ‘Blowjob Lips’ and Animal Channel meant ‘Awkward Chat’.

Monica Nelson, who got the “Black Rabbit” award in 2014, said she didn’t dwell on her award at the time, but she did find it “pretty disconcerting to know that there was a roomful of second years objectifying and labelling us, largely on appearances. What’s more, the second years know that the practice is discriminatory, so they use code words for our labels. You get stood up, and potentially shamed, in front of your entire hall and you don’t even know why… It’s a totally unnecessary, disingenuous, and generally unkind practice.”

“Animal Channel” was an award that was typically given to shy or awkward students, and several former students identified it as particularly problematic. One student, who was given the “Animal Channel” award several years ago said “I thought it was really cool at the time, I didn’t realise until later that they were making fun of me”. Another ex-student described the award as “straight up bullying”.

A female student from 2014 raised concerns about the power imbalance between first and second years, saying that the second years “have an inappropriate amount of power to affect the freshers… the freshers desperately want to be noticed so most of them enjoy being picked but the point is that the freshers don’t know what these stand for until they find a second year willing to tell them”.

“They mix all the harsh shit in with other light-hearted stuff and jokes and announcements and speeches so you don’t notice so much how bad some of it is until you look back. Thinking about it now it seems so weird and childish.”

Some former students defended the practice. A male student from 2015 and 2016 described it as “all in pretty good taste. No one got mad about it; it’s just another fun little tradition.” A female student from 2016 and 2017 said “The second years choosing the awards are careful not to select people who might feel uncomfortable in order to keep it light hearted and joking in manner. It is not an exercise in humiliation or embarrassment.”

Critic has been able to verify that the tradition goes back at least until 2009.

This article was first published in the Otago University student magazine Critic Te Arohi.

 

 

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