As an OW, a parent, student or future Wesley family, you would rightly be concerned about the recent reports of misogyny, disrespectful behaviour and sexual misconduct within our student community at Wesley College.
The media attention this issue generated earlier this year was discomforting. But it is a small price to pay for the attention it has provided to a critical problem that confronts us as educators and the community more broadly. As I have said on more than one occasion, Wesley College is a microcosm of Australian society, and reflects all the ills and wonders of its broader host. But we do have one substantial advantage. We can change faster.
I am heartened by the discussions now taking place in a range of student and staff forums on each campus to address this deep cultural issue. The College has put in place a number of measures and initiatives to begin to deal with the issues as we work together to provide a safe and inclusive community for all.
- We have entered a phase of deep listening. We need to better understand the experiences of our students; the issues they face, how they feel, the impact such challenges are having on their health and wellbeing and ideas about how we can further support them at this time.
- We have arranged for one of our counsellors to work solely in this area and we have engaged with the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) as a referral service.
- We have engaged with educational consultants (Educational Data Talks) who will use a combination of surveys and focus groups to provide us with baseline data on attitudes within the student body.
- We have supported the creation with the Senior Schools on both campuses of a group called WesFem, which will provide the campus leadership with an opportunity to engage with students. The formation of this group was student driven, it is student-led, student-focussed and student-run.
- We have engaged YourCall, our independent whistleblower service provider, to provide us with a facility called WesleySAFE. This will enable students and families to report incidents to an independent body at arm’s length from the College.
- We have engaged Bravehearts, who will provide a student program delivered in small groups that explores the topics of respectful relationships and personal safety for adolescents and is presented in age-appropriate modules. Topics include respectful relationships, understanding emotions, consent, confidentiality, bullying, internet safety, sexting, pornography, stress and seeking help. There is also a staff program which will encompass all staff at the College and will expand their knowledge about managing trauma in the classroom, understanding problem sexual behaviour and sexual harm, teaching personal safety, recognising and responding to grooming, responding to disclosures and mandatory reporting, creating Child Safe Classrooms, the indicators of harm and an explicit understanding of Wesley College policy and procedures. These programs will begin in Term 2.
- We will be reviewing the student leadership structures within the College. There is a clear need for a more effective student voice.
- We are also reviewing the policies and procedures that exist around the reporting of sexual harassment and assault to the College. It is clear we need more clarity for staff as to the processes to be followed when we have harassment and assault reported to us.
But this is not going to be just the responsibility of the College. It will take a community that moves as one, that acknowledges the urgency of the situation, that commits to changing the fundamental injustices that blight it. Men, in particular, need to listen to the lived experience of women. They need to listen with compassion and with empathy. They need to listen deeply and without defensiveness. They need to call out behaviour that falls short.
There is something stirring that is not going to be silenced. We all need to make sure we are on the right side of history. To be on the right side of history, you need to be on the right side of justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice.’
It is also easy, of course, to descend into despair. I have heard much over the past weeks that would plunge me thus. But there is much around the College that inspires and provides hope. The leadership over recent weeks of many young women within Wesley has been inspiring. The courage they have shown, and the way in which they have been constructively angry has been inspiring. Their new ideas, and the manner in which they passionately argue for them, has been inspiring. The victory of the Girls First VIII in the Head of the River, the first such victory since 1987, has been inspiring. The selection, and success, of Meika King, the first Wesley girl to be selected to play in the APS First XI cricket competition, has been inspiring.
It has been discomforting. It has been difficult. But we have faced up to our issues with courage and honesty. We are in the process of change. I can therefore hope that Wesley College will be an inspiration to others in the months and years ahead.
Nick Evans (OW1985)