June 14, 2023

Rector’s eNews – 14 June 2023

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On Monday I engaged with our boys in assembly on a difficult, but important, topic not as a result of any recent incident, but because of the importance of their understanding what you may call protocol in the area of their interaction with other young people and to try to steer them in an appropriate way. I explained that, a few years ago,

I was approached by a prominent member of the Durban community who told me of the sexual abuse his daughter had suffered whilst she was at UCT and that two ex-Michaelhouse boys had been responsible for this. He asked me what Michaelhouse was doing about this aspect of our boys’ education. Perhaps we were not, at that stage, doing enough in this regard, but I hope that this has changed.

There are some horrifying statistics, particularly in connection with abuse against women in South Africa: one in five girls under the age of 16 experiences sexual abuse, and there are over 120 cases of rape per day in this country. One in three women in South Africa has been or will be raped in her lifetime. It may be difficult to verify all of these statistics as much abuse goes unreported but there is a serious matter which is before us as a society and it is appropriate, therefore, that these issues are spoken about in our boys’ schools as, indeed, happens at boys’ schools in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Guidance from the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) suggests that an approach in most similar boys’ schools internationally recognizes the sexual activity in which most teenage boys will engage and focuses on the issue of consent and the circumstances in which consent has to be given.

What the boys have been told is that consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity and encompasses respect for each other’s boundaries. More specifically, consent has, firstly, to be freely given, indicating that there was no intimidation and the person has agreed to a particular activity of their own free will. Secondly, consent has to be acknowledged as reversible. This means that a person may agree to an activity earlier in the day, week or month and then decide that they do not wish to continue with that particular activity. It is, therefore, reversible. Thirdly, the person needs to be informed. This means knowing exactly what is happening before, during and after the activity. For example if a person is drunk then that person is not able to give consent because they cannot do so legitimately in those circumstances. Fourthly, consent should be enthusiastic. In other words, a person should not be threatened or under duress or hesitant about engaging in the activity. Only yes can mean yes. Fifthly, consent should be specific. Specific means being firm in setting boundaries and making it clear what is wanted and what is not wanted. Boys have been told to ask if they are unsure.

So the acronym which is used throughout similar schools in the world as the basis for understanding the difficult notion of consent is FRIES: FRIES stands for consent being freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific.

This is a difficult area for boys to navigate and we have tried to impress upon them that, as men and boys, we need to understand our responsibility in these areas and that a holistic education needs to address this as one of many issues on which we engage with boys. If they follow these guidelines, they should be able to feel happy that they have conducted themselves in a way that chimes well with boys of other countries and they have acted in a way which has not violated others.

On a completely different matter our senior boys (A, B and C Blocks) are moving towards the end of their exams on Thursday, whilst the younger boys have engaged in an integrated studies programme this week. As we all know, the second derby day with Hilton is approaching and the weekend of activities between the schools begins on Thursday evening with our Two Schools Concert held here at Michaelhouse. The rest of the activities are hosted by Hilton on Friday and Saturday. Whatever the outcome of the various games may be, our boys will have done their best. I sent a message at the time of the first derby day in connection with events after the games and I insert below the relevant portion of my letter from earlier in the term for your easy reference. We look forward to a day of friendly rivalry:
“At the risk of sounding like a dull “Mother Grundy”, we also need to understand that this is a time of heightened emotion which can create difficulties and has, in the past, spilled over into some behaviour which has not brought credit to anyone. We would be really pleased if you could help reinforce the message that the great rivalry between the schools is based principally on friendship and good sportsmanship so that we prevent the “hype” of the day damaging relationships.

We are also conscious of the fact that boys are in a high-risk taking mode after the day’s sporting events: we realise that there are some events/parties where boys may act out of character or in a way which compromises their otherwise good behaviour and can impact significantly on their well-being. Parties such as the Red/Black (or pink/grey) are not organized or condoned by either Michaelhouse or Hilton. In essence, many boys will be on a sleepout leave after the sport of the day and we trust that parents will recognise their responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of their sons over this time.

I write this message to you in an attempt to prevent a situation which could have been avoided with better supervision and a few non-negotiable pointers from parents.

Once again, we are looking forward immensely to the camaraderie which is a huge feature of this special occasion.”

The St Michael Award was instituted in our Centenary year and is made to those Old Boys who, in the opinion of their peers, have lived lives of special service to their countrymen or to some cause without any thought of recognition or gain. The service rendered should be of an exceptional and selfless nature and, in broad terms, the awardee should display characteristics exemplified by the life of St Michael – justice, compassion, kindness, integrity and truth.

This year the St Michael Award was made to three Old Boys: Mr Charles Phillips, Mr Peter Oscroft and Mr Chris McBride. Citations were read by senior boys to honour each of these Old Boys.

In brief, Charles Phillips has dedicated much of his life to fire-fighting throughout the Western Cape over the past quarter of a century and has also been proactive in the rehabilitation of oil-polluted penguins at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. In addition to this, he has given voluntary service at the MTN Science Centre. Peter Oscroft had his sporting career ended by an incurable and as yet undiagnosed neuro-muscular condition but, rising above his incapacity, he has been at the forefront of making an enormous impact on the lives of others throughout his leadership of a variety of associations for the physically disabled in the Western Cape. Chris McBride has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation and has become a world authority on lion. In particular, he brought international attention to the existence of leucistic lion and he has written and photographed lion extensively, particularly in Botswana and Zambia. Chris certainly caught the attention of the boys in the audience with his imitation of the roar of both the male lion and a lioness.

St Michael awardees are an inspiration to the boys of the school and this year’s awardees were certainly no exception in that regard.

St Michael Awardees from left to right: Peter Oscroft, Chris McBride, with the Rector, Wayne Witherspoon (Old Boys’ President) and Charles Phillips

Read the full Rector’s eNews here

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