Our goal is to empower all students to feel that they have dignity and the respect of others because of who they are and what they do. We aspire to the goal of everyone within our community feeling supported and empowered to be their best selves, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, diffabilities, or religion. We know we are not perfect, and this is an aspiration, but it is a worthy and important one.
The theme we have chosen for this Empower Week centers around people who identify within and across the LGBTIQA+ communities in the knowledge that this is representative and inclusive of some of our own student, staff, and parent body. Our plan is to facilitate other empowerment weeks over time that explore different themes such as those mentioned above.
Ambrose Treacy College is aligned to the Full of Life guidelines designed by Edmund Rice Education Australia and is based on love for all. Our Empower Week is about reminding everyone that all in our community are important and worthy and to engage in reflection, conversation, learning and growth.
I for one have much to learn about this and other themes and issues and as a school leader, I know that it, along with others, is an important one to be addressed compassionately, sincerely, and thoughtfully. I regularly engage in conversation and reflection with my three adult daughters who have shared with me many things from their own lived experiences as teenagers and young women in a rapidly evolving and changing world that is extremely different to the one in which I grew up. We recently watched a program called “Heartstopper” together which explored the stories of a group of young people in school settings growing and learning about themselves, their gender identities, sexual identities and relationships. It was a magnificently produced program which I would invite members of our community to watch if you haven’t already. I am very confident that many of our families will already have done so and even more confident that a lot of our students will have seen it.
One of the significant developments around this theme within the Catholic Church was in 1986. The congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons stated:
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God,
can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her
sexual orientation. Everyone living on the face of the earth has personal problems
and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strength, talents, and gifts as well.
today, the church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person
when she refuses to consider the person as “heterosexual” or a “Homosexual” and insists
that every person has a fundamental identity: a creature of God,
and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.
I respect and understand that there will be a spectrum of views on the voice of the Church on this theme and related issues. My primary reason for referencing the above is to assist in contextualising that as a Catholic School in the Edmund Rice tradition, we believe that it is important that we strive, however challenging, to promote and nurture a community where every student; a creature of God, is supported and fostered positively and pastorally for who they are.
One of our aims as an EREA school is to form young critical thinkers who have the skills to sensibly advocate in matters of justice, love, and compassion for all. Indeed, our College motto challenges each of us to do this by being and becoming Signum Fidei: A Sign of Faith.
Our school is a part of a national network of schools and strives to be authentic to the Mission of EREA through the Charter for Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition. Like other EREA schools, we are inspired by the life of Edmund Rice and the Christian Brothers and the touchstones (EREA Charter 2017) figure prominently in this identity. The touchstone of inclusive community clearly articulates that we address the needs and well-being of marginalized young people within both our College and wider communities. It speaks of communities that are “accepting and welcoming, fostering right relationships and committed to the common good”. We are also guided by the Catholic social teachings where “each person possesses a basic dignity that comes from God, not from any human quality of accomplishment, not from race or gender, age, or economic status.
Pope Francis reminds us also that
We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person,
regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in
his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while
every ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully
avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence.
(Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia: The joy of love, 19 March 2016)
In 2016, EREA commissioned a research project, Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities: A National consultation report prepared for EREA. This report details how bullying, based on sexual and gender diversity, causes significant impact on individuals and learning communities. It cites several research papers that evidence this point. According to the paper, sexuality, and gender- based bullying can be similar to sexual harassment or sexual orientation discrimination. It can include suggestive comments or jokes, insults, taunts etc. including intrusive questions about a person’s private life.
Such concerns are not limited to but can be frequently found in a boys’ school environment. If not challenged when used, they can become a part of the culture of the school. If we truly believe ourselves to be a school that nurtures an inclusive community, we must take every opportunity to challenge such behaviours and model right relationships and to seek to foster and promote a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment.
During this Empower Week at ATC, we plan to facilitate a series of activities that promote safety and inclusivity, are age appropriate and relevant and focused on diversity of people. This will be facilitated safely, respectfully, and differently in the Junior School, Middle and Senior Schools. Mr Conor Finn, Dean of Formation, will write to all families during this week with further information and our Formation Leaders welcome your questions. I take this opportunity to thank our IWG (Inclusive Working Group) of both student and staff representatives who have helped prepare this Empower Week and look forward to this and other opportunities in the future.