With the recent tragic events at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, there is an opportunity to shed light on male violence, its impacts, root causes and solutions. As of today, Toronto Police continue to investigate eight incidents at St. Michael’s, including alleged sexual assaults, assaults, and threats. The community continues to respond with an over-pouring of support, care, and concern. The School and the community have committed to a process of inquiry and culture change.
In late November, representatives from White Ribbon and St. Michael’s College met to discuss an overall approach and action plan to promote healthy masculinities and culture change at the school. This resulted in a partnership agreement between both organizations. Over the coming months, White Ribbon will be supporting St. Michael’s College School to promote healthy masculinities and spur transformational culture change. This will include immediate staff training, student education and engagement, and a school culture assessment. We will engage diverse stakeholders including students, staff, parents and alumni, to explore gaps, needs and opportunities to enhance St. Michael’s culture - ensuring everyone feels safe, respected, included, and valued. Findings from the School Culture Assessment will be foundational to the St. Michael’s Healthy Masculinities and Culture Change Strategy. We look forward to working with the St. Michael’s community and supporting the school’s journey ahead.
About White Ribbon
White Ribbon is a community-based organization created in 1991, two years after the 1989 Montreal Massacre. We work to examine the root causes of gender-based violence and to create a cultural shift that helps bring us to a future without violence. Our vision is for masculinities that embody the best qualities of being human. We believe that men and boys are part of the solution and part of a future that is safe and equitable for women and all people.
About St. Michael’s College School
St. Michael’s College School is Canada's only Catholic, Basilian, faith-based independent school, educating young men from Grades 7 to 12 in a university-preparatory programme. Founded in 1852, the school provides education in liberal arts, arts, athletics, and faith development. Please visit www.stmichaelscollegeschool.com for more information.
How Ontario Schools can Draw-the-Line to End Sexual Violence
Last year in Arianna Lambert’s grade 4/5 classroom, it started with a conversation about hugs. “We talked about why you should ask someone ahead of time,” she recounts. “It got them to think about how we actually impact the way people feel around us by going too close.”
Age-appropriate conversations like this one are taking place in many Ontario classrooms. They represent important stepping stones for building a culture of consent. Or, in other words, a culture where it’s recognized that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs—whether we’re talking about a hug, sexual activity, or anything else—and asking for consent is normalized and promoted.
White Ribbon--the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls—understands that bringing discussions about consent and healthy relationships into classrooms is key to stamping out the attitudes and behaviours that fuel sexual violence. What’s more, it’s not enough to create a culture where, as individuals, we don’t commit or condone sexual violence. To solve this pervasive problem, we all need to learn to be active bystanders: safely and effectively intervening when we see sexual violence taking place. That’s where Drawing the Line on Sexual Violence—A Guide for Ontario Educators can help.
Schools are in a unique position to help end sexual violence.
One in three Canadian women will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime—with young women being especially at risk. Female youth aged 12 to 17 are eight times more likely than male youth to be victims of sexual assault or another type of sexual offence. Meanwhile, Indigenous girls, LGBTQ youth and women and girls with disabilities run even higher risks of being sexually assaulted.
With unparalleled access to young people from all walks of life, teachers have a key role to play in helping students learn how to recognize and respond to sexual violence. That said, as a subject, sexual violence and consent can be intimidating to broach.
“When I first heard about the topic, I was a little bit apprehensive,” says Sean Lambert, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a contributing writer of the guide. “But once I got together with the team and knew the support we would have from White Ribbon, I understood it was good work.”
Draw-the-Line brings discussions about sexual violence out into the open.
Draw-the-Line is a bystander education campaign created by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, who later partnered with White Ribbon. The campaign provokes discussions about sexual violence in our communities and provides strategies bystanders can use to intervene safely and effectively.
In 2016, White Ribbon saw the need for school-based resources on the same topic and, working alongside Ontario educators, developed tools to help teachers foster the next generation’s ability to navigate healthy relationships, understand consent and prevent sexual violence. Since then, more than 5000 copies of the guide (which is available in both French and English) have been distributed.
The resource helps students prepare for real-life situations.
Students discuss how they might react to the situation as teachers walk them through lesson plans that draw on expectations from the Ontario curriculum. “It becomes much more personal than a resource that might say ‘here are three tips…’” says Arianna.
According to Grace Guillaume, a first-year student at the University of Guelph who has volunteered with White Ribbon, it’s also a great way to practise for the unexpected. “When you encounter a situation in which you want to intervene, it often catches you off guard,” she explains. “You second guess yourself. But when you have these different examples of possible scenarios, you think of what you would do and should do. Then, when you encounter a real situation, there’s less processing. You can identify it more easily, and even though there’s not one exact right way to approach it, you already have an idea of what you can do.”
“I like the fact that there are also stories and links to videos about topics like cyberbullying,” adds Arianna. “It helps students understand those situations in ways that are relevant to their own lives.”
The resource can support more than just classroom discussions.
Some schools and students have used the campaign in creative ways. “Last year we created a show called My Being,” says Emily Guitar, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. “It’s an interdisciplinary show where we talk about rape culture, especially related to youth. We had 50 performers and 20 visual artists involved.”
The student-led group framed their show around the Draw-the-Line resources. They put on two performances for a total of 400 audience members, and students are planning a similar show for this year. “Last year we talked about the overall community aspect. This year, we plan to talk about how we can work to diminish sexual violence without justifying the actions of the perpetrators,” explains Emily.
Arianna can also see potential in taking the messages of the Draw-the-Line resource outside the classroom. “I think that (school-based) clubs could be a really effective way to do this,” she says. “It could allow for a broader conversation in a school that doesn’t necessarily have teacher buy-in.”
Male allies are key.
The resource guides also contain a section on engaging male bystanders—something that’s central to White Ribbon’s vision for ending sexual violence. Until recently, education initiatives have largely focused on how women can protect themselves, rather than on how men can be part of the solution.
“Throughout history people have made sexual violence a women’s issue,” says Grace. “It creates an environment where men aren’t reviewing their actions or their reactions to sexual violence.”
“I think it makes a huge difference when men and boys get involved,” comments Emily. She explains that when they do, it no longer feels like just a woman’s issue, but an issue that concerns all of us.
And when all genders become part of the solution, we all benefit. Safer communities and healthier relationships are just the start. When men and boys become allies to end sexual violence, they can also gain a healthier, non-violent sense of self—something which can lead to an increased ability to identify and express emotions, a decrease in risk-taking behaviours and even improved mental health.
How can you start a conversation at your school?
“Prior to writing the resource, I didn’t feel I had the expertise. I wouldn’t have known where to start,” Sean admits. “Teachers need good resources and a lot of good information.”
Although the current iteration of White Ribbon’s Draw-the-Line campaign in Elementary and Secondary Schools is coming to a close, the Drawing the Line on Sexual Violence guides are available for free download from the White Ribbon website. Furthermore, e-modules to support educators in the use of the guides are coming this month. White Ribbon continues to offer workshops for educators and students.
It’s also important to remember that, with the right support, any educator can tackle the material. “My mistake was thinking, I don’t teach health,” says Arianna. “All teachers could use these activities. They don’t necessarily have to happen in health class.”
Most importantly, keep in mind that by reaching out for information and support you can increase your comfort level with the subject. That, in turn, will help students to feel more at ease. “As a teacher my job is to make sure everyone is comfortable having these discussions,” says Sean. “If I can do that, it becomes less taboo.”
And when a topic like sexual violence loses its taboo, empathy for victims increases, people begin to take more responsibility for their actions and reactions, and big changes can be set in motion. “Just being presented with opportunities to have discussions around this is going to change lives, save lives, and make a change in our society,” Sean concludes.
December 6th marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. It’s a day in remembrance of the 14 female students who lost their lives in the École Polytechnique Massacre and all women whose lives were lost to gender-based violence. White Ribbon was created as a response to the massacre in 1991 by three men who felt men needed to speak up against violence. We reached out to a male ally that has been connected with us from the beginning to get his impressions about December 6th and his commitment to work to end violence against women.
After a busy TTC trip, down to the lower concourse level at Queen’s Park and through the glass doors, we found ourselves in a boardroom in one of Toronto’s office towers. Ready for a conversation about remembrance, allyship, gender-based violence, privilege and work culture. We met with Nirav Patel, Director of Human Resources, Corporate Groups, at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
A warm welcome, a supportive white ribbon fastened on a blue suit and we are off to a very inspiring talk. Nirav starts by telling that OPG hosts a yearly breakfast, generously donating to White Ribbon and the cause of raising awareness about men’s role in ending gender-based violence. I was curious to know how Nirav got involved with White Ribbon and it goes back to the very beginning of the Campaign.
“It was 1989 and I think everybody saw in the news the tragic massacre that took place at École Polytechnique. I was in 8th grade, I was probably about 13 years old and many of us came to school confused. It was probably the first time in our generation's history that we saw this type of massacre in such a graphic and unjust way and we were trying to make sense of it. Why were women only targeted? Why did the shooter feel that he needed to come into a school, a place of learning, a place of safety and do this? And what did this mean for us moving forward? Why did this happen and what do we need to do to change this?”
Nirav was fortunate to have two teachers who facilitated a dialogue about the massacre: “this was some heavy stuff that we were talking about. And nobody talked about gender equity or violence against women in the way we might do today.”
The dialogue had started, and a few weeks later Nirav and his school took a trip downtown to participate in a march: “the White Ribbon movement began. It began with men coming together, Jack Layton bringing the troops together, saying we should create awareness. We should observe this as a sad issue, but we should also use this as a catapult to make some changes. We wore our white ribbons and that’s always sort of stayed with me.”
As Nirav entered high school, they took actions such as collecting donations for women’s shelters. Then “in the workplace the dialogue just sort of,” Nirav pauses, “not stopped, but you know, nobody really talked about this in the workplace back then.”
Again Nirav felt lucky to have a mentor that at the time encouraged him to do something about that. She told him to get creative, start small and go ahead and do something. He had her full support: “A few men got together and we decided to host a breakfast in and around the timeframe of 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, and we had male executives cook breakfast for the staff, they flipped pancakes, employees were invited to walk in and make a donation to a woman’s shelter that specifically supported women leaving abusive relationships. And we signed a pledge together to not tolerate violence against women and be advocates for gender equity. And then we had some speeches. That’s sort of how the event started and it’s been about 15 years and we are still doing it.” The funds now raised at the breakfast support White Ribbon’s efforts to end gender-based violence.
Much has happened since 1991. But much is yet to be done. For a long-term solution to ending violence, men must embrace their responsibility. Or in Nirav’s words: “In general, men must have courage.” Courage to stand up and speak out: “If you hear a joke that’s inappropriate then don’t laugh along, stop it and have a dialogue. It could be starting with ‘hey that’s not cool and here’s why it’s not cool’ or ‘I don’t appreciate that’. And as simple as that sounds, it’s something that men don’t often do.”
Many men don’t know how to intervene or support someone who has experienced violence. They feel it’s a women’s issue and don’t know what to say. “I think the many masks that men carry - being stoic, being strong, not showing emotions - really need to be removed. All of those things have perpetuated the society that we live in now, where we have so much gender-based violence, where we’re experiencing women talk about harassment and sharing their stories. We need to have more dialogue to end the tragic stuff that takes place.”
When it comes to the workplace, it’s also about having a dialogue to create a culture of respect. It doesn’t happen overnight, as Nirav tells me: “I think it needs to be fostered, I think it needs to be promoted and I think it needs to be talked about.”
In Nirav’s organization their code of conduct guides the behaviour: “It tends to be a roadmap in terms of a way to behave and something to adhere to to a certain extent. We want people to work safely and go home to their families every day without suffering any injuries. A lot of that goes to feeling respected and valued at work. The goal is to have a conversation about what respect looks like and sometimes having those specific conversations with specific teams help set the norm for the organization.”
In the #MeToo era it is especially important to have these conversations: “I think most men, I’m not speaking for all men, but most men should know or ought to know what appropriate behavior is. I think what happens is that a lot of men feel powerful and they feel like they can get away with it. With the MeToo movement, things have been called to light. It’s important and I really respect all women that have come forward to share those very personal stories. I think it has taken a lot of courage for those individuals to come out, but the good thing is that it’s created a dialogue for people and it’s created a call to men to be more mindful of their behavior, the language they use and how to be more respectful.”
Furthermore Nirav urges men to be open to coaching: “when women come to you to say ‘hey you didn’t handle that really well’ or ‘can I offer a different lens on something’, we should take feedback as a gift, especially when it comes from a woman on some of these issues related to gender equity specifically.”
Nirav has so much more at heart about allyship, being a role model, ending violence against women, men’s privilege and men’s need to be advocates that one blog story is not enough. Look out for our podcast and video coming soon!.
We encourage and invite other men to organize steps and donations to support the cause to end gender-based violence. Think about the kind of ally you want to be in your workplace, community, and personal life. Follow Nirav's example and take small steps to make a difference.
Check out our website for more tips, information, and resources and reach out to [email protected] on how to get involved in your workplace.
by Malene Nørby Pedersen