Stand up, speak out – do something

Issue: Volume 98, Number 20

Posted: 22 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA30_

More than 250 students attended a new programme aiming to change attitudes about domestic violence among young people.

Students and teachers from 31 schools in Wellington and the lower North Island attended the inaugural gathering of the White Ribbon Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme (YALP) at Wellington College in August.

White Ribbon aims to have YALP in as many schools as possible, with local communities supporting the project in each region. Similar kick-off events are planned for Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and New Plymouth next year.

David Cournane is HoD Health and Physical Education at Wellington College and has been a White Ribbon ambassador for several years. He says that until recently, White Ribbon focused on an older demographic, but he believes a real difference can be made in schools, with young people being more open to changing their philosophies and ideas.

“My boss Gregor Fountain [principal] was incredibly supportive of Wellington College being a leading light in this space. White Ribbon won’t direct what they should do, but the White Ribbon mentor will end up supporting the direction those young people end up going,” says David.

The August event was intense, with different presenters, including four mayors from the region, speaking throughout the day. Speakers included Eteuati Ete from The Laughing Samoans who, with wife Mele, told his story of redemption and growth from being brought up in a violent way to being violent in his marriage to Mele. He now actively promotes the anti-violence message.  

“On the day, White Ribbon set each pod of students up with a mentor. Each of the schools will have an adult mentor associated with White Ribbon to help them,” says David.

Solution not gendered

Domestic violence is a gendered issue, with 90 per cent of domestic violence being male to female, but David says the solution isn’t gendered. The youth ambassador scheme takes a non-gendered approach to all of society working together to solve the issue.

David is the mentor for Wellington College and Wellington East Girls’ College – two secondary schools located almost side by side but with very little institutional contact. With about 20 White Ribbon ambassadors across the two Wellington high schools, it is hoped these young people will become part of the voice that will generate conversations. 

Magnifying messages

“It will be student-led leadership, because so much of what is happening in that space at the moment is unengaging for a portion of students,” says David. 

“They recognise themselves that various dimensions of their mental wellbeing are more challenged today than they have ever been, and they don’t respond incredibly openly to people of different generations imposing solutions on them.

“While we need to have meaningful and appropriate conversations with young men, the messages and work can be magnified and make more of a difference if they happen between men and women, girls and boys.” 

Students from the two Wellington schools plan a number of joint activities, including a White Ribbon morning tea, and having a drone film students from the two schools filling out the White Ribbon emblem on Wellington College’s field, to embody White Ribbon’s kaupapa. 

Next May, the two schools will join together to dedicate a day to wellbeing. 

“Year 12 and 13 students from the two colleges will have a shared experience across the two days with an overall theme of the whare tapa model of wellbeing but with the kaupapa of White Ribbon – the need to stand up, speak out and act to protect, not just violence, but any sort of harm to health from other people and society,” says David.

Framework for change

The framework generated at the inaugural event will be a collaboration between schools around Aotearoa and White Ribbon, who are supporting the initiative through personnel, expertise, presenters, resources, and marketing.

“What we are trying to get across through this programme and the White Ribbon kaupapa is stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence towards women. In that sense, we’re not saying that 90 per cent of men are responsible for violence towards women, because they are not. 

“There is a minority that are responsible for it but there is probably a majority that have the capacity to influence the minority – that might be aware of the way their buddy is treating a girlfriend in a relationship. The way most people exist now is to turn a blind eye. What we are trying to create is being ethical bystanders – or upstanders,” says David.

Boxing values

The Year 11–13 students who attended the August event in Wellington recognise domestic violence is a societal issue and that there is a potential role for them to create awareness and change within their own environments.

“At the end of the day I had a wonderful conversation with a group of boys from Palmerston North Boys’ High. The last hour had been spent in small groups brainstorming the various things that schools or communities could do. 

“They have always had this traditional connection to boxing as part of their boarding school curriculum, as a way of building character and values amongst young men. Their plan was to use that, I guess, inherently violent act, as an actual space to promote the messages around this.

“It’s an occasion where 1,600 of their boys and their families come and watch a boxing event, and that’s unique to their space. And they will have a White Ribbon mentor working with those boys – it’s their idea, it’s their context,” says David.

Poetry against violence

An outcome of the inaugural event was a Spoken Word competition held in Wellington in September featuring slam poetry, rap and spoken word.

“There were unique, diverse different poems, with the common theme being about relationships and what is healthy. Some were quite confronting. 

“One Year 12 student’s poem was about her fears for her younger sister – for what’s in front of her from what she had seen and the parties she goes to. What she wants for her 13-year-old younger sister is a room where you don’t have to be fearful of who’s looking at you, or who’s there.”

The eight finalist poems will be filmed and become a key part of White Ribbon’s next national campaign.

To find out more about the Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme, visit the White Ribbon(external link) website.

Creating change 

During the August Youth Ambassador leadership event, a tool called Mentimeter was used and this word cloud was produced.

“We have a wonderful beautiful word bubble that represents the key thoughts, feelings and emotions that the students were feeling. The thing that stood out is a whole bunch of sadness and the things that had shocked them from the morning presentation such as hearing that every four minutes, the New Zealand Police are called out to a domestic violence case. 

“We got across that domestic violence isn’t just physical, it can be financial constraints, emotional, mental control, etc. 

“But there was also a huge theme of change, and young people not getting dragged down by the issue that we face but by the hope that surrounds what we can do to create change,” says David.

Tips for starting a White Ribbon Youth Ambassador Leadership Scheme in your region

  • Identify people of influence who will support and generate momentum, such as principals, mayors, senior leadership teams.
  • Create momentum and interest across the wider region – engage ‘champions’ across as wide a network as possible.
  • Engage students in the process (market via social media, use the voice of youth).
  • Ensure the kaupapa is understood – when we understand this, who can argue with the need for change?
  • Find a location, and don’t restrict what your YALP could become by going too small.
  • Contact White Ribbon to help facilitate and provide support.
  • Set dates in conjunction with White Ribbon, schools, and community organisations. 
  • Ensure there are adults to support each school (White Ribbon ambassadors, staff, community workers).

2019 Campaign: Challenge the #unspoken rules

  • Unspoken rules are the messages given to young boys and men such as ‘Boys don’t cry’ and ‘Toughen up’.
  • These #unspoken rules help to reinforce the ‘Man Box’ – a set of expectations that assumes men must always appear dominant, tough and in charge. It’s a box that’s prescriptive and restrictive. Any different behaviours are dismissed as not manly.   
  • Those who influence young people, need to undermine the #unspoken rules and promote respectful relationships, which are a protection against violence.
  • Men who break out of the ‘Man Box’ to choose their own masculine identities report they’re less stressed, more satisfied with life and have happier relationships.

Student ambassadors speak up

Jonty, Year 13

It was really fantastic to see the buy-in, not just from schools around the city, but schools in the lower North Island as well. The more people are aware about the statistics and how bad it is in New Zealand, the less these types of things will occur. 

I think it’s important that young people acknowledge that there is this issue and work out ways amongst each other to combat it in the future. The main thing is for young people to educate other young people and raise awareness and raise funds to inject money into community groups who are helping survivors.

Jedi, Year 13

I think it’s going to take persistence and time which we don’t really have because it’s an ongoing issue and the longer we leave it, the more it’s going to happen. But if we just do a one-off event or speech, that’s just going to stay in our minds for maybe a month at most. But if we keep on about it, it will become embedded in people’s daily lives and we will start to accept the reality of it. 

At the moment we’re just normalised by all the advertisements that ‘Domestic violence is not good’, but if we start getting it into our educational setting, we’ll start to realise it’s more serious than a 15-second advert.

We are the ones who need to lead by example – it’s up to us to make a change.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:16 am, 22 November 2019

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