Friday 26 February 2021

We Can All Do More

Over recent days, reported behaviour of adolescents – particularly boys, some said to have been from Riverview – acting in violation of sexual consent laws has rightly received much attention. Some of the incidents and behaviours are deeply shocking and in contravention not only of the values of schools such as Saint Ignatius’ College, but critically the criminal code of conduct. The number and the character of these allegations are disturbing and need to be addressed. These events must be transparently discussed not only by staff, students and the parents of the College, but also the wider community. I do not believe we achieve anything by ignoring or marginalising the gravity of this situation, and said so when approached for comment by various media outlets last Friday. I went on the record then and I reiterate my comments explicitly for all our community.

Non-consensual sex is a crime, and any such activity should be reported to the NSW Police. This is a mandated requirement and an important one for the safety and welfare of young people.

We acknowledge and stand with every young woman who has shared their story, and will continue to address these issues so that the courage they have shown is not in vain. A number of programs at the College have already been developed to educate our young men about proper and responsible behaviour. At the outset, let me acknowledge that one of the challenges in educating in this space is the age-specific context of such information as well as different socio-cultural and family contexts. Some boys are developmentally more mature and able to comprehend the nature of such content, while for others it can be confronting, disturbing and even ideational. However, navigating this challenge is a collective societal responsibility and one we, as a College, will not shy away from.

In addition to the requirements of the Stage 3, 4 and 5 PDHPE syllabuses, the College offers programs conducted by specialised Consultants who meet twice a year with our Year 9 and Year 12 students. During these sessions an array of areas are workshopped, inclusive of sexual assault, consent, personal safety, conflict psychology, decision making and life skills. Additionally, some of the College’s past parent colloquiums have specifically targeted the freely available nature of pornography on the internet in order to better equip parents to have direct conversations with their sons. At Regis, age-appropriate content centring on anti-bullying, positive power, relationships, pressure and trust is taught and discussed in both mentor groups and as an entire campus. The purpose of these initiatives is to lead to an understanding of respectful relationships. With a commitment to ongoing improvement, the College regularly assesses these programs for the way that they are able to respond to the nuances and the challenges of a changing world.

Over the past week, the Counselling and Pastoral Care staff at the College have researched and assembled a number of resources that can facilitate dialogue with young people about the sometimes uncomfortable discussions associated with consent, sexual assault and personal safety. These are located here and may be of considerable help in navigating these topics.

There is more to be done. We will continue to work with external authorities, adolescent health and wellbeing advisors and the P&F who provide advice to the College about how to best facilitate information and forums that leads to positive decision making in matters affecting our boys. Classroom teachers, pastoral care leaders and College counsellors are also an important avenue for conversations with students around these topics.

One of my colleagues, Briony Scott at Wenona, has drawn attention to the fact that we can all do more. I agree with her. Schools are but one of many agencies that have a vested interest in values, social behaviour and the developmental influences of young people. This issue – as we have seen even in the seat of Australian democracy – is pervasive.

In fact, it has been argued that schools are one of the few institutions that take direct and pro-active measures to educate for social responsibility. There is an expansive social, technological and informational milieu in which adolescents move that needs to be recognised as having both impact and agency. Those influences are ubiquitous and occur 24/7; the same influences that are mitigated in the school environment through the removal of external devices, the filtering of internet traffic and education programs. There is much being done in schools, but there is always more.

This issue requires ongoing vigilance and adaption to an ever-changing environment in which our young people grow up. It is a problem that has afflicted the broad spectrum of social behaviour since time immemorial, but the information age and social media bring with them an intensification and an extrapolation of the issues involved. Their reach is more pronounced and their impact more acute. There is as much work to do both in and outside schools, be it around the dinner table, in the corridors of government and in legislation. We don’t do any service to, or progress our understanding of the problem by simplifying what is a highly complex and intricately enmeshed labyrinth of issues.

We need to educate for values – justice, faith, integrity, dignity, respect and truth. These have underpinned the mission of Jesuit schools for half a millennium, but they need ongoing commitment, constant review and contextual application. In this regard, vigilance is the price of excellence and complacency the greatest threat to it. Vigilance from all, commitment from all, action from all. Our social fabric needs it, and the well-being of our young people depends upon it.

We can all do more. We, as a Riverview community, are committed to doing more.

Dr Paul Hine