Situated within the University of Sydney, St John's College is the oldest Australian University Catholic College. It provides accommodation for 168 male and female students.
An incident occurred earlier this year which resulted in a young woman being hospitalised after an initiation ceremony. Thirty three students were suspended for their involvement in the infamous "O" week ritual. College rector Dr Michael Bongers wrote a report about it which, in part, read:
The incident involved 30 male residents of the university coercing (her) and a small number of other first-year girls to drink a potentially life-threatening mixture which contained dog food, off milk, Tabasco sauce, various forms of alcohol, and shampoo.
The circumstances in which she was coerced into drinking the mixture involved her and the other girls being surrounded by the more senior residents in a common room and then made to kneel.
The incident was part of a covert tradition in the nature of an initiation process inflicted by second-year students upon new students. The students have a number of unwritten rules among themselves, breaches of which carry penalties.
One, or perhaps the main purpose of these rules, is to perpetuate a hierarchy in which freshers acknowledge older students as their superiors.
Dr Bongers suspended 33 students for two weeks.
A former fellow of the college, Professor Roslyn Arnold, says the police should be brought in to investigate the disgusting behaviour meted out to new students. She was once one of 18 fellows who governed the college through the all-powerful college council. The traditions at the college were often enforced by second year freshers and many students were terrified. "They work to de-humanize people, they work to disempower people, they work to frighten people, and they work very effectively" she said.
But she knows things won't change until parents stop sending their children. "The only thing that will bring an institution to its knees will be if it suffers financial damage."
The College is an independent body which means that Sydney University has no authority over what occurs on campus.
Old boy Tony Abbott said the reports of initiation were appalling and unacceptable and another old boy, Joe Hockey agrees. But nothing changes because of the 33 men who were suspended for taking part, seven have secured positions on next year's college council, including the three top spots - president, secretary and treasurer. They are now considered to be "The Untouchables" and the college executive has ordered them not to speak to the media.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell was asked to step in to help, but there is little he can do.
Joe Hockey said "Let's not gild the lily on this sort of stuff, if you open the lid on colleges and campuses and frat houses right around the world ... by the general standard of behaviour, it would be deemed pretty lewd and inappropriate."
Edit: The socalled “untouchables” have been foiled by Cardinal George Pell. He has removed priests from the council and without a member of the clergy, it cannot continue to function. A total of seven people, including six clergy, have now resigned. He has also called on Premier O’Farrell to change the laws governing St John’s which could mean the church cedes sole control. ''Unfortunately, I no longer have confidence in the capacity of the council of St John's College to reform life at the college, despite their goodwill and the dedication of the chairman,'' he said. ''I have therefore requested the priest Fellows of the council to resign.''
Edit 21 December 2012: Thirty three students involved in the scandal have been expelled.