A former student at an elite Melbourne college lashed out at what he calls a sexist and cruel culture, sharing his own experiences there.
“Who in this class wants to know what it’s like to sleep with a woman who has slept with several men before?” “
Famous Australian-Filipino photographer James Robinson remembers a teacher who asked this question during a sex education class at St Kevin’s College, a Catholic boy-only institution in the affluent suburb of Toorak in Melbourne.
Several of his classmates raised their hands, he recalls. They were then invited to walk to the front of their classroom, where they were given a cookie.
“They are told to chew the cookie but not to swallow it. Then we give them a drink, ”says Robinson.
The students were then asked to spit out their chewy mouthfuls of chewy saliva cookie into the glass the teacher held out in front of the class.
“This is what it is to sleep with a woman who has been with multiple partners,” she said. “You don’t know what germs she carries. You don’t know what other men’s germs she carries.
“And then think about that the next time you think about sleeping with a woman.”
Eight years after graduating from St Kevin’s College, this week Mr Robinson returned to campus in a protest that resulted in him burning his school blazer on the oval.
By posting a series of photos on Instagram – one of which shows him and his partner kissing – Mr. Robinson shared his memories of what he called a toxic, sexist, homophic and transphobic culture in school.
“St Kevin’s is a bubble where privileged young men can repeat oppression without consequence, before graduating brilliantly in public,” he wrote.
“A place where ‘locker room conversation’ openly exists in hallways and classrooms. “
‘A whole system of staff who don’t agree with you’
Mr Robinson said that given the culture he experienced at St Kevin’s, he was not surprised by what he called the misogynistic and legitimate attitudes of some of his students.
The New York-based photographer recalls being forcibly “exposed” by an older student, bullied for his sexuality and left without support from teachers. At the time, at 15, the event left him suicidal.
“When you have teachers teaching you religious things about being gay, it makes you feel like there is a whole system of schools and staff who don’t agree. with you, ”he told news.com.au.
“So even when I had this terrible experience of being exposed, of course, I’m not going to look to the teachers who teach and say homophobic things.”
Gradually Mr. Robinson managed to find a “small community” in St Kevin’s, but looking at his experiences, he said he did not understand the extent of the school’s problematic culture before d ‘have graduated.
“It was horrible back then but I was like, ‘Oh, this is how the world is, this is what I’m going to have to be prepared for,'” he said.
“Once I finally graduated and gained my own perspective and language on social issues, I realized that things had to change. ”
Since sharing his photo series, Mr. Robinson has received several messages from current and former students, telling him of similar experiences.
“This school, and the private boys’ school culture as a whole, is fertile ground for patriarchy and male rights, teaching a beehive mindset that produces unconditional heteronormative men,” it says in a comment.
“I shudder at the thought of a reality where I have never broken the shame of this culture and found my homosexuality. Thank you for sharing, it moved me deeply.
Another former homophobic student has told stories of staff members using homophobic slurs, suggesting he is attending gay conversion counseling and asking him to refrain from going out.
“Some of the staff reportedly ‘prayed for my soul’ and called me ‘fa ** ot,’ read another post shared by Mr Robinson.
“The staff told me to reconsider coming out until I was 40 and married with kids.”
“It became dangerous to stay there and I had to leave six weeks after my twelfth year.”
St Kevin’s College: A Timeline of Controversy
Used to controversy, St Kevin’s has taken several hits to its reputation in recent years.
In 2019, uniformed students were caught on camera singing a sexist chant on a Melbourne tram.
While on their way to an interschool athletics carnival, the students were heard saying, “I wish all the ladies; Were holes in the road; What if I were a dump truck; I would fill them with my load.
At the time, the school apologized on behalf of the students, with then principal Stephen Russell confirming that those involved in the singing had been disciplined.
Mr. Robinson said he was familiar with singing.
“It was something that was chanted during many sports meetings with other schools. It was very familiar, ”he says.
“I only had to listen for a second to find out what they were about to say.”
A scandal in 2020 also saw the resignation of Mr Russell and sports chief Luke Travers, after it was revealed that they had provided character references to Peter Kehoe, an external track and field coach who ultimately been convicted of sexual offenses against children.
St Kevin’s was later reprimanded by the Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority, which said systematic failures within the school had resulted in “student safety issues”.
Additionally, a 2020 report commissioned by the school that consulted over 1,000 members of the school community confirmed that “misogynistic language and sexist behavior” were still present there.
A spokesperson for St Kevin’s College told news.com.au the school is committed to making positive change.
In a statement, the spokesperson said that “the school has been very open about its past failures” and said “transparency” was “an important step in bringing about real change”.
Following Mr Robinson’s post, St Kevin’s new principal, Deborah Barke, sent a letter to parents and students congratulating him for speaking out.
“St Kevin’s College is on a journey of cultural renewal, with a focus on inclusion and welcoming all,” she wrote.
“There is a lot of goodness in our quorum and yet we still have a lot to do. “
She is the school’s first female principal. Mr Robinson said the change of leadership was exactly what the school needed and that he planned to meet with her soon.
Despite this, he said the issues he was protesting against – and those that have since flooded his inbox – “extend far beyond a single school.”
“While there can be some really wonderful changes talking to people like me, I feel like I’m bumping into an institution, not just a single school,” he said.
“At the end of the day, St. Kevin’s is a school where people send their children for their reputation and it’s a business that has to put profit first.
“School elitism comes from parents, it comes from money, it comes from years of history, and it comes from the church.”
Still, Robinson is hopeful if the school wants change.
“I know it’s something they’re doing, but the school needs to start listening to the experiences of current and former students and not prioritize reputation,” he says.
“They should start focusing on the health of the students and should absolutely stop worrying about their reputation.”