Architects of Toxicity: A Cultural Question

by Lucca Stanger

A brief foreword: 

(i) Don’t misunderstand me. I have quite enjoyed my time at the college. I’ve been given a comprehensive basis from which to pursue my dreams, for which I am very grateful. 

(ii) This article is not designed to level criticism against any individual but rather, it is a reflection on how our community operates. However that does not stand to absolve individuals of their respective responsibilities to shift the culture. 

(iii) As is with many such ‘uncomfortable subjects’ these things tend to fall on deaf ears. The repudiatory response to such commentaries is the very issue that is being highlighted; monolithic complacency and even ignorance that dominates our collective consciousness. 

Starting in Year 1 for 3 consecutive years I was treated to Mr. Hutton’s famous ‘bubble speech’. I would show up to class ready for a 1 hour “warm up” sporting my Barcelona jersey. Upon my arrival in the Lett Gym I was immediately, without fail, subjected to Mr. Hutton’s scrutiny. “Do you think this kind of behaviour is acceptable outside this UCC bubble of yours?” I will admit at the time the speech’s nuance and insight were wasted on my immature ears. But just like a California Cabernet the speech has aged better than the idea that Year 12s are immune to Covid-19. Starting in FY I began to develop an appreciation for the speech as I reflected on some of the flaws I noticed within your community. In this article I want to discuss those flaws and highlight a few aspects of the culture that require deep reflection. 

“Toxic Masculinity”

The obvious lack of differentiated gender expression within the student body manifests itself in some very ugly ways but I want to highlight two; misogyny and homophobia. I think Mr. Hutton’s bubble analogy really comes into its own when you consider the misogynistic tendencies that are secretly sewn into the fabric of your blazer and tie from day one. Within the bubble the singular gender expression creates two cultural parasites:

(i) Pervasive prejudice and even hatred of women and girls. Sexual objectification, social marginalisation, and general hostility are mainstays of conversations, thoughts and actions here at the college.  

(ii) The above behaviour is only emboldened by the collective ignorance and bystander apathy present at the college. 

As Mr. Hutton says this behaviour won’t fly outside the bubble. As we leave our bubble the women that become our peers will invariably become victims of our behaviour. Don’t believe me? Fine, look no further than the experience of the women that make up a minority in our community. I’m sure you could ask one of your teachers and they could list instances where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable. I remember a Monday assembly in which a guest speaker proudly displayed a picture of his family which included his two daughters. The picture was met with ‘wolf whistles’ which rang through Laidlaw. Your crimes are not victimless. The women who lined the pues that felt unsafe and disgusted. On an individual level understand that if not responsible you are complicit. Consider, for instance, the homophobia that manifests itself in equally egregious ways. Using the term ‘gay’ pejoratively or calling your friend ‘sus’ because they showed you a little affection is homophobic. The accountability within the community is non existent; nobody stands up for what they know to be right. And again your crimes are not without victims. Being gay or part of the LGBTQIA+ community in any capacity is nearly immposible at UCC. And again, you are responsible/complicit in the hostility of our community. 

“Toxic Competition”

I don’t think it’s a secret that competition is the name of the game at the college. For instance, many of us are constantly vying for a whole slew of positions in clubs or on sports teams. And while a good deal is healthy and brings out the best in our community there is a very ugly side that ought to be underscored. Note here that while not the only reason this toxic form of competition lurks underneath the stress and mental health issues that are too often ignored at the college. I suspect that the emphasis on competition has two sources. Firstly internal, that is the environment created by students themselves. And secondly externally through parents, teachers or directly from the school. As students we naturally focus on the latter but both are equally deserving of consideration. Reflect for a moment on your own motivations. I often find myself working for the wrong reasons. And while in part it is self imposed the climate at the college often prompts me to compare myself to others. Note here how subtle much of this competition is. “I’m going to pull an all nighter so I can beat Ethan Gomes on the Econ test.” Everyone ought to be weary of this. I want you to remember that although we are often pitted against each other, it’s important to understand how much your peers can help you. Our support system undermined my selfish competition. 

I want to end with a brief note about struggle and few things to keep in mind as navigate the college: 

(i) Although they are not without their flaws, your peers at the college are invaluable. Being vulnerable with them can be hard at times but also rewarding. Many have the capacity to make your life easier in small ways that you will almost definitely appreciate. 

(ii) In contrast there are people that have the capacity to make your lives a lot easier; parents and teachers are crucial advocates. Develop your relationships to the extent that you feel comfortable sharing and discussing. 

(iii) Lastly, make an investment. An investment in your friend who reached out to you. An investment in yourself and your own wellbeing. An investment in your community. You won’t regret it.