College Leaders Stand Up for Respect

By John Moore, St Leonard’s College Head of Senior School

The role of our leaders is central to life at St Leonard’s. As a leadership group, our Year 12 leaders pride themselves on setting a positive example, continuing to build the culture within our College and speaking up when they have messages they feel need to be shared. At our most recent Senior School assembly, Emily C and Harry N spoke to all Year 10, 11 and 12 students about the need for all students to respect each other, in light of the recent issues with violence against women. The fourteen College Captains and House Captains joined Emily and Harry on stage during their speeches, to stand united behind the messages of respect. We are incredibly proud of their passion for creating a culture of respect at the College.

Parts of Emily’s and Harry’s speeches are included below.

How good is this school? Athletics days, student leaders, house events. This school has everything from music, to chess, to drama. But most importantly it has kind people. Devoted teachers. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are here at St Leonard’s, and I think that it’s important to take a step back every once and a while. To reflect, and to appreciate. So, on behalf of your Year 12 leaders, I encourage all of you here to reflect on how you interact with yourself, and how you interact with others.

We know that your actions can shape a person’s life for the better. I’ve seen you supporting each other in the halls, whether it’s through a hug, a joke, or simply being with one another. I know that our community looks out for one another and helps other people up and today, all of your College leaders are here on stage to show you how much this means to us. We want to continue the culture of courage, care, and connection here at St Leonard’s.

This room is filled with kind people who care deeply for one another. And for that, I want to congratulate all of you. We have carried ourselves well so far this year. My final message for you is to take care. Take care of yourself; reach out if you need to. Take care of one another. And finally, take care?of?what you say and how you act.

I feel very lucky to have many great male friends at St Leonard’s who are respectful, trustworthy, safe and that I have great respect for. However, I know that the issue of violence against women that has been in the media recently is not happening in another state, another city, another suburb. It’s happening in our community, and we need to open the conversation.?Although it may sound harsh, it’s important to hear the experts who say that negative comments can indicate worrying beginnings of a superior attitude that can signal a potential for future intimate-partner violence.

Many young people fail to understand, or forget, that their words, ‘jokes’, and actions are not like balloons that are casually put out into the world and will just float away. They stick like a virus to the people they affect. People carry these criticisms, abuse, ratings. They hold them in their souls. The insults, comments, nicknames. They follow people for a lifetime.

The people who are making these comments believe their words are temporary. Meaningless. In the moment. They may pass them off as a joke. They may reserve the right to change their mind. They’re afraid to be held to account. But when those comments are released into the world, they are not like balloons that float away. They are viruses, they spread, fester and your?intention?is irrelevant.

Before you join the charismatic bully who is putting these abusive comments into the world – before you emulate them – stop and think about your values. Think about your 5-year-old self and what you hoped for. Then think about your 35-year-old self. Maybe when you’re 35 you might be a parent, part of a work team, part of a community. You might have daughters, nieces, peers, or a partner that you care about. What will your values be? Who are you? Will you be proud of how you followed the crowd or treated others when you were 16, 17 or 18? Will you be proud of your jokes and the way you related to women??

Do not allow your ego, desire to be “the funny one” or need for social inclusion let you forget the real person who is on the receiving end, who is just like you, and deserves to be here just as much as you. Everyone has their own lives, and their own feelings. And if you make a mistake, you apologise straight away. You pull it out of the world. You take accountability. And you change.

Abuse is a learned behaviour. So, I urge you, to be careful what you consume through social media, pornography, media and think about it. Ask “does this align with my values?” And most importantly, as the Senior School, we have a responsibility, and opportunity to be positive role models for the younger year levels.

As I said, I am proud to say that I have many friends at our school with me who are kind, respectful and that I trust. But to be that person, you must reflect often. Hold yourself to a high standard. Let us be strong, educated women who fight for respect. Let us be strong, respectful men who will constantly strive to be the safe, humble and noble men that Australian society needs.

We know that to make change it requires consistent advocacy, lobbying and calling it out and that’s what we can do as a St Leonard’s community.

Recognise it. Learn what it looks like. Call it out. Be the change.