For a couple of weeks now, #metoo has enabled victims of sexual assault and/or harassment around the world to talk about and share their experiences. With this painful topic in the news so much at the moment, I would like to talk to you today about harassment at school and our unrelenting efforts to put a stop to it.
Two years ago, TES created a gender equality and child protection committee, in keeping with Taiwanese law. Its aim is to give a voice to all of those who find themselves in situations that they consider offensive, humiliating or uncomfortable. Students are asked to talk to an adult about their experience. Depending on the details of the case, the head of school presents it to the committee.
The committee is not a jury; no judgement is passed. It is a forum for the victim’s version of events to be heard. It also allows us to reflect on our actions and the procedures that we need to set up in terms of education.
The aim of the committee is not to punish – that remains the remit of the head of Section concerned. Its role is to allow the victim to be heard. Accepting that harassment has occurred means recognising the victim’s suffering. It is letting that person know that they are important, that we are there to protect and help them work through it. It is, especially, letting them know that it is not their fault.
As for the perpetrator, we treat them with respect and according to their age – child or young adult. We help them to understand the consequences of their words, their actions and their attitude. The committee is composed of different senior leaders of TES, who meets as and when cases are passed on to the committee. Its work is to create a student environment where there is no place for suffering, tolerating, silencing or committing any form of harassment (no matter how small it may seem; 99% of the cases we handle are – thankfully – minor with positive outcomes).
Kant says we have the impression that we act freely, but we are in fact motivated by the laws that we follow, which is particularly true of adolescents. It is therefore our duty to ensure that the laws they follow are not the survival of the fittest or the code of silence.
To do so, we must work together. While stigmatisation may have a cathartic effect, as shown by #metoo and the Weinstein scandal, what we really need is deeper, great change. School has a role to play in leading that change. I consider it one of my greatest challenges.
Have an excellent weekend!