First women move into St Paul's College

Christina Pennell and Tiffany Wong join Tim Berney-Gibson as St Paul's College admits women.
Christina Pennell and Tiffany Wong join Tim Berney-Gibson as St Paul's College admits women.

For the first time in more than 150 years, Sydney University's St Paul's College is no longer for men only.

More than 30 women are now living at the Anglican college at Sydney University as part of the inaugural class for its new postgraduate and academic residence, Graduate House.

Tiffany Wong and Christina Pennell, both 22, are two of the new female "Paulines," and say they want to contribute to changes at the prestigious institution.

Ms Wong is no stranger to St Paul's - her grandfather attended the college in the 1950s, followed by her father and uncle in the 1980s, which she says probably makes her the first third-generation female.

There is a minimum target of 50 per cent women for Graduate House and the current cohort includes students from 20 countries, aged from 19 to over 45.

Ms Wong and Ms Pennell both came to St Paul's with an understanding of the college's controversial history.

St Paul's students have been accused of sexism and harassment towards women as well as hazing and initiation practices.

In 2017, a post by a St Paul's fresher to a closed college Facebook group likened sex with women to "harpooning a whale".

The university's deputy vice-chancellor Michael Spence reportedly wrote that the post indicated (that) a "deep contempt for women" was a core feature of the college's shared culture.

Ms Pennell said she did her research on the college and was reassured this attitude would not be her experience.

"Of course you're apprehensive, you read that and go, 'gosh, what am I getting myself into, I hope it's ok'," she said.

Since arriving, those on campus have been more inclusive and respectful than she expects, she added.

The college came under scrutiny when its previous leadership in 2017 initially refused to take part in former sex commissioner Elizabeth Broderick's report into sexual harassment and assault on Sydney university campuses.

Since 2017 the college has undergone deliberate renewal, appointing a new dean, new council leadership, and modernising its governance.

In September 2018, Ms Broderick's separate report into St Paul's was handed down and the college accepted all recommendations.

Ms Pennell said having women at St Paul's will help invoke change.

"Somebody's got to do it; somebody's got to be those women who come in," she said.

Australian Associated Press