A Former St Kevin’s Student Torched His Blazer To Protest Against The School’s Toxic Culture
"St Kevin’s is a bubble where privileged young men can rehearse oppression without consequence, before graduating with flying colours into the public."
In a powerful Instagram post, a former St Kevin’s College Victoria student has shared how he broke onto campus and burned his school blazer to protest the toxic “hyper-masculine culture” that has been fostered at the elite all-boys private school.
Melbourne photographer James Robinson, who graduated from St Kevin’s in 2013, shared that he broke onto school grounds last night to protest the “patriarchal culture” he witnessed firsthand during his time there.
Robinson admitted that “something snapped” within him after Collingwood star Jordan De Goey — who is also a former student of St Kevin’s — was arrested in New York for allegedly groping a woman and assaulting a man. The “forcible touching” charges against De Goey have since been dropped, but the assault charges remain.
“I broke into the school yesterday to protest. Something snapped in me this time. The patriarchal culture I saw inside the school gates burst out and made its way to New York, my new home for the last five years,” Robinson started his post. “(Allegedly) assaulting someone in a city, where many in my queer community, like me, are rape and sexual assault survivors.”
“St Kevin’s is a bubble where privileged young men can rehearse oppression without consequence, before graduating with flying colours into public,” he continued. “A place where ‘locker room talk’ exists openly in hallways and classrooms.”
“These photos are dedicated to current students and victims of St Kevin’s, and schools like it, who feel like their identity is slowly being chipped away by a hyper-masculine culture. I see you. I was you!”
“This protest takes my healing full circle. I burn my blazer not in anger, but in hope for regeneration,” Robinson ended his post. “I kiss my partner, not in spite, but to bring love back to the only place that ever taught me shame.”
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Over the years, St Kevin’s has earned a less-than-ideal reputation with a number of controversies involving students and staff of the elite private school. In 2019, a number of students were caught singing sexist chants on a Melbourne tram while the school’s former headmaster and dean of sport provided references for a coach who is a convicted sex offender.
In his post, Robinson also detailed a number of concerning things that he claims to have seen during his time as a student eight years ago.
From allegations of transphobic bullying and objectification of female teachers, revenge porn, and bribery to hush potential assault charges, the successful photographer claimed that St Kevin’s operated on “a system designed to let young boys think they can do anything, assault anyone, and get away with it”.
Speaking to Junkee, Robinson remembered one specific activity from his Year 9 sex health class — which featured no information on gay sex — that has stuck with him throughout the years. The former student reminisced on class where the boys were taught bout sleeping with women using cookies.
“Three to four students were asked to chew up a cookie but not swallow it. So they chewed it up and they each spit their cookie into a glass,” Robinson recounted. “They hold the glass up afterward and say ‘This is what it’s like to sleep with a woman who has been with other men. You don’t know where she’s been or what germs she’s carrying.'”
In another example, Robinson told Junkee that the school actually ran classes that were all about “being a man” which worked to teach students that a “female is somewhat under your ownership instead of being treated as equals”.
In his Instagram post, Robinson also shared his own harrowing experience of being “abusively outed” at the school at the age of 15, which left him suicidal and on a “dark spiral of self-hate and gay shame”. When he raised these issues of how “systemic homophobia and racism bled into the curriculum” with a former principal in 2019, Robinson claims he was dismissed.
Thankfully unlike the previous leadership who dismissed Robinson’s experiences, current St Kevin’s Principal Deborah Barker has been supportive of Robinson and has been in contact with him to offer her “personal support”, a spokesperson told Junkee.
In a letter that was sent out to teachers, students, and parents this morning, Principal Barker shared that she “genuinely wants to listen to, and fully understand” Robinson’s concerns. In an attempt to address some of the points raised by Robinson’s Instagram post, Barker also added that “St Kevin’s College is on a journey of culture renewal, with a focus on inclusion and welcome for all”.
“There is much goodness in our College and yet we still have much to do,” Principal Barker wrote in her letter. “It has become clear in my first year, of the importance of listening deeply as we strive to deliver a safe and inclusive environment for all of our students in partnership with their families.”
James Robinson confirmed to Junkee that Barker did reach out to him and that the interaction felt genuine. Robinson also confirmed that the pair have plans to meet to discuss what steps can be put in place to make St Kevin’s a safer place for all students.
The biggest thing that Robinson says he plans to discuss is for St Kevin’s to shift into a model of “protecting students over protecting the reputation [of the school]” and to open up avenues for “students to talk more openly about misogyny”.
“Too many times in my experience… teachers were so busy trying to protect the reputation that they were forgetting the safety of their students,” Robinson added.
“So I think the number one step is to be listening to their experiences — even if that means some bad press. I think the lives and the health of a single student are worth more than a thousand slander articles.”
Sadly when Robinson shared his story, he was flooded with messages from both past and present students who shared similar experiences at St Kevin’s.
Messages like “nothing has changed since you left,” “the extremely damaging attitudes are still present” and “you’d be lying if you went to this school and never experienced some form of misogyny or homophobia or the objectification of women” sadly prove that St Kevin’s still has a while to go before the toxic culture the college has become known for is fixed.
And while appointing a female leader to instigate this necessary change is a step in the right direction, Robinson believes that “the issue is more systemic than one single school”.
“I think the school has been aware for the 103 years it’s existed that there have been issues about misogyny and the treatment of women,” Robinson told Junkee. “St Kevin’s is a business, and businesses are, of course, driven by profit and reputation,” he continued. “So I think ultimately this issue extends beyond even just changing the culture at the school — it goes to looking at what same-sex schools are doing to kids and how exactly tying business and profits and religion into an institution like education is run.”
But even though St Kevin’s is ultimately a business, Robinson is still hopeful that the appointment of Principal Barker — and her willingness to speak to victims — will bring about a much-needed change in toxic culture brewing at the school.
“While I think there are steps that are being made, there are ways to instigate proper change. Ultimately that goes back to speaking to victims, speaking to women,” James Robinson concluded. “That’s why I’m really grateful that there’s a female principal and also [a willingness] to speak to queer students like myself.”
“I’m excited to speak to Deborah and open up some conversations around change.”
You can follow James Robinson and his photography on Instagram here.
Michelle Rennex is the senior writer at Junkee. Follow her on Twitter.