The Roots of Culture

By Graeme Tremain

Following the release of Lucca Stanger’s article Architects of Toxicity: A Cultural Question, I read and mulled over his discussion points, probing into my experiences, observations, and personal interpretations of our college’s community culture. Before sharing my thoughts, I would like to point out that I acknowledge and agree on principle that there is an ongoing issue with the culture at Upper Canada College. It is something that needs to be addressed within the College walls, and that needs to be dealt with in a manner that will create change not only now, but for future generations of students as well.

First, I would like to respond to the Toxic Masculinity segment of Stanger’s article. Stangner states that he believes The obvious lack of differentiated gender expression within the student body manifests itself in some very ugly ways” and that he wanted to highlight two: “misogyny and homophobia.” While I agree with the opening statement of this section to an extent, I do not believe that UCC is a community that this can be applied to. Stanger addresses the misogynistic tendencies that are secretly sewn into the fabric of your blazer and tie from day one.” From my perspective, this appears to be a claim that upon enrollment at UCC, an all-boys school, misogynistic tendencies are immediately instilled and cultivated into our students. I believe that the birth of misogyny, homophobia, racism, or any other form of discrimination, where it exists, stems not from school, but from home, at the tip of its roots.

It is the responsibility of every parent to teach their children whatever values they deem important. In the case of myself and many other students at UCC whom I know well, our parents and wider family place a large emphasis on the values of respect, responsibility, and the importance of equality from a young age, long before our introduction into the UCC community. Perhaps not every parent places as much importance on these values, and as such, some children may be challenged in the understanding that their words or actions can spread misogyny, homophobia, or other kinds of discrimination at school. My point is, it begins at home; attending an all-boys school does not itself make you a misogynist or a homophobe.

Stanger also claims that the singular gender expression at UCC creates prejudice and even hatred of women and girls. I actually believe quite the contrary. Although interaction with girls does not occur on a daily basis (excluding family) for many students at our school, UCC offers many extracurriculars such as COSSOT collaboration activities, student-led organizations such as Relay for Life, and dances that promote the opportunity for female engagement. That being said, I acknowledge that there are problems with our culture as a community. The examples Stanger listed in his article are disgusting, and it is ultimately up to us as the community members to step up and fix our behaviour. 

Secondly, with respect to the Toxic Competition segment of the article, Stanger makes a good point in differentiating between internal from the external pressures we feel as students at UCC. I agree with the notion that as students, we focus more on the external pressures that are exerted on us, however I believe that our internal motivations are often subsets of what we feel externally. Again, as in the case of cultural values, motivations are first born at home. 

More than that, though, Stanger used the example for toxic competition of “I’m going to pull an all-nighter so I can beat Ethan on the Econ test.” If that is his lived experience, then more is the pity. In my experiences, sacrificing sleep or other activities in order to study for a test has never been motivated by beating a peer, but rather by achieving my own personal best. From what I’ve seen from myself and my peers, the expression “I want to do better than ___” has not been motivated by putting someone down to bring ourselves up, but rather to be the best that we as individuals can be.

I recognize that it is of course possible, that I am living a different experience in terms of competition at UCC than Stanger. And you reading this may be living a completely different experience than either of us; there are as many different perspectives in our community as there are individuals, but we must eventually realize that we share the same goal: success. 

As we move and work towards a more inclusive, more respectful culture in our community, I would like you to take away a few main points from this discussion. As we continue to mature and learn to think and make decisions for ourselves, the responsibility to instill respect and empathy into our characters begins with our parents and gradually becomes our own. As developing young men, it’s completely on us to step up and do the right thing. Anger, hatred, discrimination, and toxicity help nobody and accomplish nothing. Why would you spend your time belittling others, ruining someone else’s day when that time and energy can be spent bettering yourself and your friends? Call to mind Think Ahead. Lucca and I agree on the principle that our culture at UCC needs to change, we just disagree as to its origin. Regardless, let’s do better as a community. Be the change we all want to see.