Politics

The Triwizard Shorenament Isn’t A Surprise To Anyone Who Went To A Private School

These schools are microcosms of privilege, built on ideals of racism, sexism and classism.

private schools shore

Last Wednesday, Shore Headmaster Timothy Petterson wrote an email to parents in condemnation of the Triwizard Shorenament that had been organised by the school’s students.

“This is not who we are as a school,” he said. “It is extremely disappointing to all of us that their thoughtless actions have cast a shadow, not only over the considerable achievements of their classmates, but the reputation of our school generally which strives to be a respectful, inclusive and caring environment for all.”

As someone who went to private school, “respectful, inclusive and caring” are the last three words I would use to describe my experience.

I went to an all-girl’s boarding school about an hour-and-a-half from Sydney. It tried really hard to emulate the same sorts of girl’s schools in the city — we played weekend sport with the likes of Queenwood, PLC, and Abbotsleigh. We had our school social with Scots. Girls had brothers and boyfriends who went to Kings or Cranbrook. Private school culture is the same across all of these places, and I know it uncomfortably well.

When the list of challenges for the Triwizard Shorenament came out — which included “spitting on a homeless man”, “shitting on a train” and “kissing a girl under the age of 15” —  I wasn’t surprised in the least.

I had watched this behaviour from other private school boys play out on my friends as I grew up. When we were 14, repeatedly getting unsolicited dick pics for days in a row was harmless but annoying fun; when we were 16, tolerating surprise anal during sex with a boyfriend made you a chill girlfriend. Some girls I know can’t talk about the whole thing because it reminds them of the abuse they received, the rape and violence cultivated by private school cultures just like Shore’s.

These schools are microcosms of privilege, built on ideals of racism, sexism, and classism. It’s written in their history, in songs and papers from their old leaders. I’m not even being metaphorical here- — the Shore school song skips over the verse that literally starts with “and here’s to the fellow who works like a black.”

The girls weren’t free from these attitudes just because they were the objects of the boys’ sexism. My school was mostly white, and if the rise of media coverage on Karens has shown us anything, it’s that white women perpetrate some of the most insidious and violent racism there is.

Private schools provide a safe space for white children to indulge in racism among their peers, without consequence. The dark rye bread that was offered by the school at mealtimes was nicknamed “n****r bread” by students because of its colour. If teachers heard it, they never told them off, and those of us who objected were labelled too sensitive. I know that as a white student, so much racism went under my nose, normalised by both my white privilege and the culture of the school. For the girls of colour who went there, I cannot imagine what it was like.

I can however, speak to the queerphobia that permeated my school. I was outed on two different occasions (people didn’t believe it the first time) and was terrified I would be expelled for being gay. This is the same school that wouldn’t let us celebrate Halloween during our themed Friday night dinners because it was “too pagan” — I wasn’t overreacting by assuming queerness would be persecuted too.

One of my friends in the younger years was asked by a peer why she didn’t feel “disgusted” around me, and my teacher shut down the entire existence of queerness in sex ed with a particular mix of disgust and panic on her face. Never, in the two years I was out, did I feel like I could ask the teachers for help.

When I was outed, my power and privacy was torn from me twice, and I had to deny the existence of an identity I was only just coming to terms with. The thought never crossed my mind that this was wrong — the school acted like queerness didn’t exist. I didn’t have a place there. If it weren’t for the support of my group of friends, and my family, I would have been alone. And I was one of the lucky ones. The last girl to come out before me had done so four years prior, and was bullied so badly she left the school.

Before a school reunion, one of the old students had transitioned, and everyone in the school was warned by the prefects that there would be a boy sitting with the old girls. Someone told me they heard a teacher say he shouldn’t have come back.

Private schools function on a completely different plane of reality. When these students graduate and step into the regular world with everyone else, some of them are completely detached from real life values. A girl once told me with a straight face that she wasn’t rich just because she had a house in Vaucluse. As a middle-class kid on a scholarship, their attitudes warped mine so much that I grew up thinking I was poor.

Private school kids don’t exist in a void, and neither do their values.

They go on to work in law, medicine, government, art, education, and business. They raise their children with the same ideas and don’t see any reason to hold them accountable when the rest of the world discovers how they think. The Shore boys aren’t an exception.

Challenges like “getting with an Asian chick”, or “getting a gay man’s number”, and “spitting on a homeless person” are perfect examples of how sexism, racism, classism, and privilege is normalised and entrenched in these environments.

Those #ProudShoreMums and columnists speaking out in defence of private schools are safeguarding an institution that benefits them, while students who couldn’t fit in because of a fundamental aspect of their very being watch from the sidelines, with 12 years’ worth of trauma and shame.


Lydia Jupp is a freelance journalist who writes about gender, queerness, culture, and politics. You can find more of her work and an abundance of youthful existential crises over on her Twitter @lydiarosejupp.