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Normalising the right behaviours

My address in yesterday’s Years 7 to 12 Muster was one of the more challenging I’ve delivered in my time as an Educator. The topic of my address, sexual assault is a prevalent national issue. It is an issue dominating our media headlines, and so it should. We need to have this dialogue. We need to keep talking about this issue as it often sits latently in our community, particularly in the world of youth. Further to my 23 February 2021 community correspondence on this topic, I hope by providing an overview of my address, parents will continue to engage in discussion with their sons as we work in partnership to battle the endemic culture of sexual assault across our nation.

I firstly congratulated students on their efforts in pursuing truth so passionately in the first six weeks of Term 1. Whether it be pursuing truth in the classroom, the arts or the athletic domain, our students are recording some amazing achievements across all disciplines as they strive for excellence. These actions and achievements, whilst notable, are all normal behaviours at St Peter’s College that contribute to a great culture.

My address then tackled the very significant issue of sexual assault at play across our nation. I started by reminding students that in our single sex education environment, one we value and embrace, we have the opportunity to normalise all the right behaviours… seeking assistance from teachers, submitting work on time, pursuing excellence across all endeavours. That’s the power of our single sex community. But with this power comes a risk in that we have to be absolutely deliberate in normalising the right behaviours.

We need to normalise powerful behaviours such as bystander intervention and having the courage to speak out just as Ms Chantel Contos has done in calling out a culture of sexual abuse. Just as Mr Asher Learmonth, Head Prefect of Cranbrook School has done in calling out the objectification of young women by his cohort. I encourage you to read Mr Learmonth’s gutsy speech that was printed in its entirety in last week’s Sydney Morning Herald. If the Saturday night ‘gath’ hook up and the Monday morning ‘count of achievements’ culture he refers to is normal behaviour in our community, then it needs to change, because together we have the opportunity to normalise the right behaviours.

I went on to discuss some of the cultural influences, none of which ever excuse sexual abuse, that need to be kept in check – alcohol, pornography, bystander behaviour and hook up culture. Further, I also touched on outdated images of what we think it might mean to be a man. Whilst it may have been difficult for our Year 7s to grasp some of these concepts, the lived experience of the thousands of young women who provided testimonies in Ms Contos’ petition suggest this abusive behaviour is occurring at ages as young as 13. As a school we are responding to Ms Contos’ plea by taking the opportunity to review our Relationships and Sexuality Education programs and the culture of behaviours that are normalised in our community.

Discussion around this topic must not stop. 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame is an inspiration to us all in what she stood up against and she is challenging all Australians to go and be truth tellers. Although many boys may not have witnessed the shocking events being reported nationally, together we have the opportunity to be part of the solution.

I remind all parents of the invitation to provide input into our programs and our culture as experienced beyond these walls and fields. I have encouraged our partner girls’ schools to do similarly. All staff have been invited to provide input into ensuring we are normalising the right behaviours in our culture. As we approach International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March, it is the right and proper thing to do.

I concluded my address by setting our students a challenge. Their challenge is to reflect upon aspects of our community’s culture that need to change. What behaviours do we need to normalise to ensure everything we undertake is built upon truth and righteousness; that beauty, order and reverence is our message and that in all actions we are both strong and lovely.

Please do not hesitate to make contact should you wish to discuss this matter.

Tim Browning