Pink Shirt Day: Reflections on Masculinity and School Culture

February 24, 2019
As we approach Pink Shirt Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about masculinity and the ongoing process of building a positive school culture characterized by respect and inclusion. Important and complex, these are topics that have attracted a growing amount of attention in the media and in public discourse in recent months. Among other things, the #MeToo movement has highlighted the dangers of ‘toxic masculinity’, as have the horrific acts of hazing at a Toronto school and some of the more extreme reactions to the Gillette’s “We Believe” video.  

As I approach my tenth year at St. George’s, I recognize that I am biased. I love this School, and I believe that it provides boys with a safe, supportive, and engaging environment within which to grow and develop. At the same time, I recognize that we are not perfect, and we must continue working hard to strengthen our culture and to ensure that this is a place where everyone feels safe, valued, included, and respected. We can always do better; we can always be better.
 
That said, there is much evidence to suggest that we have built a positive school culture over the years. Character education has always been integral to a St. George’s education, and through our Strategic Plan we have renewed our focus, emphasizing values such as respect, empathy, and integrity. Over the course of the past year or so, diversity and inclusion have emerged as increasingly important priorities, and in the coming months, we will be implementing a formal training program for all faculty and staff. These sessions are being facilitated by Alden Habacon, the Senior Advisor on Intercultural Understanding at UBC and one of Canada’s leading diversity and inclusion strategists and facilitators.
 
At the Junior School, character education is woven into everything that we do both inside and outside of the classroom. The Core Values are integrated into formal reporting, and the Man of Character program provides students with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the Core Values while celebrating their classmates. The formal curriculum provides many opportunities for the boys to wrestle with ethical questions, as well as with issues relating to gender and male identity. We work with the boys to help them develop the vocabulary to describe their emotions, and we present them with many opportunities to participate in non-stereotypical male activities, including dancing, cooking, and singing.
 
At the Senior School, we know through student surveys that the boys feel physically safe and that the vast majority feel emotionally safe. Our GSA is flourishing, and this year we celebrated our fourth annual Pride Week. Lessons focusing on healthy sexuality and masculinity are now part of our formal curriculum, and in Assemblies and X-Block presentations, as well as through the Global Stewardship Conference and ArtsWeek, we expose the boys to a variety of speakers and workshops on topics ranging from social responsibility to healthy masculinity. To give just one example, during Mental Health month in October, the Senior School organized four different X-Block presentation addressing topics relating to masculinity, male identity, and mental health. Moreover, for a number of years, we have been full participants in the Ministry of Education’s ERASE Bullying program, and we have developed policies that address inappropriate student behaviour, including bullying, hazing, and harassment.
 
As we pursue this important work, our touchstones must continue to be our Mission and our Core Values. As I never tire of explaining, our Mission as a school is not to win athletic championships or to get boys into highly competitive and prestigious post-secondary institutions. Our primary purpose is to help our students become the very best human beings possible—young men of character able and willing to help make the world a better place. Our Core Values—empathy, humility, integrity, resilience, respect, responsibility—therefore must continue to inform everything that we do, as we and our students strive to become our very best selves.
 
As always, I can be reached at tmatthews@stgeorge.bc.ca if you have questions, comments, or suggestions.
 
Dr. Tom Matthews
Headmaster
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