University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor says residential hall culture needs to align with institution’s values

Remarks by Peter Mathieson, who also says hall structures require reform to prevent bad behaviour, follow two cases of bullying

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 9:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 10:44pm

University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson has highlighted a need for “residential hall culture” to conform to the institution’s values, and for a reform of hall structures to “make bad behaviour less likely”.

In the interview with students, he also voiced support for an online course on sexual harassment, to be launched in September, which aims to help students protect themselves and their friends.

Mathieson’s remarks followed two cases of bullying involving students in the university’s halls, which have shocked the public.

In one incident, a group of students poured wax over the lower body of a student running for a hall council election, prompting him to quit the race. In the other case, a student in another hall was filmed using his genitalia to strike the head of another man, held down by at least two other males.

Although management and residents in both halls have denied that such behaviours were a part of their culture, many graduates say practical jokes bordering on bullying have had a long history in the university halls.

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In the interview with HKUDOS, a blog run by students from the university, Mathieson said activities in halls had been a source of concern for the university administration.

“We are concerned about the risk of those things being harassing of individuals or making people feel uncomfortable,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t want to dictate hall culture, but I do think hall culture should conform to the same values and the same norms as the rest of the university.”

Mathieson said he wanted to “engineer structures that [would] make bad behaviour less likely”, including reforming the admission process of the halls.

He cited newer dormitories on Lung Wah Street as a positive example – they deliberately admit an equal proportion of locals, mainland students and overseas students, with a roughly even split between undergraduates and postgraduates.

Mathieson called certain traditions in some older halls, which “are very Cantonese-based, very local student-oriented”, a little old-fashioned and said an integrated environment like that in the newer halls had worked well.

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Professor Chan Yuen-ying, supervisor of Shun Hing College, one of the newer halls, declined to comment on Mathieson’s views. But she said a diverse and integrated hall could boost understanding and communications among students from different cultures and backgrounds.

HKU students’ union president Ed Wong Ching-tak said student bodies in traditional and newer halls were two “very different groups” and should not be compared side by side. Wong hoped the university would discuss with students on how to make changes. “Hall cultures are created in a bottom-up way, and we hope they will not be changed from the top down,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mathieson expected a course on sexual harassment prevention to be mandatory for all students and staff.