All-male St Leo's College takes proactive steps on respectful relationships

By Stephen Foley, Head of St Leo’s College, The University of Queensland

Earlier this year the social media world was beset with the story of Brock Turner – a swimming scholarship student of Stanford University in the US who was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault against an intoxicated and unconscious female student. The victim’s statement was released in full by many news channels. It made for particularly confronting reading.

Sadly this story is not one-off. It is the stuff of nightmares for parents whose children have left home for the first time.

You may not be aware of a national campaign that began this year. Australian universities and the National Union of Students devised the Respect. Now. Always. initiative to shine the spotlight on sexual assault, victim blaming and rape culture, which sadly has been seen in some Australian universities and colleges.

There is reason to believe that the numbers of victims who come forward are the tip of the iceberg. It seems that some victims believe they will be subjected to suspicion and more abuse if they report incidents, so many assaults go unreported.

Universities Australia is seeking to address this problem. They have launched what is described as the first comprehensive national survey of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campuses. Universities will use the data to improve their policies, procedures and support services.

Some colleges around Australia are also doing what they can to educate their students about consent and respectful relationships so that this issue is at least discussed transparently and robustly. As a college head at a UQ all-male college, I knew we needed to find innovative ways to reach our residents on this tricky topic.

Rewind the clock just 12 months and this time last year the UQ college heads were given a preview of the Hunting Ground a documentary about sexual assault on US college campuses. I decided St Leo's would invite all returning second and third-year residents to return to college three days earlier than usual so we could run workshops which we called ‘Q Week’.

The Hunting Ground was the genesis of Q Week. We saw it as a launch pad to educate our all-male college in a way we hadn’t previously. Sure, we have talked about these issues – through all-college meetings involving all our staff (male and female) however we decided we had a duty to ensure it stayed on the agenda.

On day one, there were four workshops, comprising:

Workshop One: The Evolution of Male Identity (UQ's Dr Geoff Ginn & Dr Lisa Featherstone);

Workshop Two: LGBTI Awareness and Inclusivity (Sydney-based Ishwar Singh of Pride in Diversity);

Workshop Three: Recognising Mental Health Issues (ANU's Dave Segal)

Workshop Four: The Ethical Bystander’s roles in preventing sexual assault: Respectful Relationships. (Nina Funnell and Katrina Marson of Sydney-based Pillow-talk.)

We screened The Hunting Ground on day two of Q Week. The Head of another UQ College and many of his students joined us. The room was silent for the two-hour duration of the film. If you haven’t yet seen this movie then I suggest you take the time to view it. It is distressing, confronting and most certainly, invites further discussion.

Following the film we hosted a panel discussion. Our panel comprised guests who identified as straight (the St Leo's Dean of Students and the Grace College Dean of Students), a gay woman (a former Duchesne Resident) and a gay man (a former St Leo's Resident). These people answered questions from the floor teasing out the issue of discrimination faced by people who identify as LGBTI. The St Leo’s deputy head chaired the evening.

This was the first time we had responded to many of these issues head-on. It does not mean we have now done the hard work and ticked the box. As an educational institution we are part of an ongoing narrative involving students, parents, friends, teachers and other educators.

The Leo's story is a work in progress and we'll be running Q Week again in 2017, again within O Week – this time with all our students. It has made a positive and constructive contribution to our community and we're a healthier place for it.

Stephen Foley (left) has been Head of St Leo’s College, UQ, since 2014. Previously he was Head of ANU’s John XXIII College.



Last updated:
5 October 2016