I look forward each week to our Monday morning tours where families of boys in Grades 4, 5 and 6 come into our school to see the school in action. It is lovely to meet with these mums, dads, guardians and boys as they weigh up whether Salesian College is the school for them. One of the things I always declare at the outset is my own bias. I tell the families that I have chosen to be at Salesian College for twenty-five years because I love the boys, I love its charism, its values and the way our community nurtures and supports. I mean it too.
However, as is the case with every large organisation, we are not perfect. There are always fields for improvement in any school. Ours is no exception. One such area, which I raised at Student Congress last week, relates to some of the language choices which I suspected that significant numbers of boys habitually and casually use with their friends. I was both impressed and saddened by the boys’ responses. Our Years 7-12 leaders confirmed that swearing is an issue. Of even great importance to them, however, is the manner in which good and decent young men carelessly use racist and sexist language.
One of the truly great things about Salesian College is its multicultural nature. The internet informs me that there are 193 countries in our world. Our 1119 boys derive from 80 different nationalities. It is wonderful to bear witness to the way boys from so many different backgrounds mix in with one another so harmoniously. I find it difficult, though, to reconcile the paradox that exists between the overwhelmingly warm and welcoming disposition of the boys with the racially-loaded language which sprinkles conversations. Boys will say that it is just ‘banter’, a joke amongst friends. This is partially true: it is, often, discourse between friends. But, it is not just banter. Language is never neutral: it is ripe with power and meaning. Sometimes the biggest problems are caused by good people who unintentionally do bad things. Whatever the intent, banter using racial terms, has an impact. The force of the words aggregate. Hurt lingers. Resentment festers. Younger people overhear and mimic. And, so, the cycle continues. I wish to state plainly that racially based language at Salesian College will simply not be tolerated. It is never OK to refer in a derogatory fashion to someone else’s ethnicity, colour or appearance.
Of equal concern is sexist language and other misogynistic actions. Sexually-related inferences about another boy’s mother, sister or girlfriend are abhorrent. Somehow, it seems even worse when such comments are made as a joke between friends. Such comments serve to objectify women, to perpetuate injustice and are designed to humiliate and to have fun at the expense of another person. More ominously, language is often the precursor to other forms of action. In this context, sexist remarks about women can lead to the slippery path of leering, making vulgar remarks at train stations, yelling out comments from a bus and, indeed, even more sinister manifestations of misogyny. All women, whether they be a friend’s sister, a girl at a bus stop, a mother giving up her morning to serve at the canteen or a young female teacher, must be respected!
What is the behaviour we are prepared to overlook? What ‘jokes’ will we make to get a laugh? Are we prepared to do something if a companion makes a misogynistic or racist comment? I spoke about these matters at a virtual assembly on Wednesday. Our Student Leaders want to do something about these issues and I know that our Pastoral and Faith and Mission Teams will interrogate our Personal Develop Program to see if we can do more in these areas. Ultimately, however, there is a moral dimension to the choices WE make: ethics is not just a unit of theoretical work in Year 12 Religious Education. It is in our everyday lives that our values are most often tested. Our boys are good and decent young men. Yet, self-discipline, personal choice and the courage to stand away from the pack are virtues that our young men need to work on for the betterment of our community and society in general. I know that many families would already have had conversations about these topics at home. Could I please ask that this article is used as the stimulus for a further chat with your boy?
Mr Neil Carter