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A former student of an elite all-boys private school in Melbourne has set his school blazer alight on the college’s oval in a powerful protest overnight.
James Robinson, 26, told VICE that although he’d been planning the act for a while, the catalyst came when another former St Kevin’s student - AFL player Jordan De Goey - was recently charged with a series of allegations after an incident at a New York club. Charges of forcible touching have since been dropped by New York prosecutors, but the footballer still has four charges of harassment and assault laid out against him.
In a now viral Instagram post featuring a series of images of his school uniform set alight on the college’s campus, Robinson wrote that the “patriarchal culture [he] saw inside the school gates had burst out and made its way to New York.”
“St Kevin’s is a bubble where privileged young men can rehearse oppression without consequence before graduating with flying colours into public,” he wrote, “A place where ‘locker room talk’ exists openly in hallways and classrooms.”
St Kevin’s College has been the focus of scrutiny before. In 2019, footage went viral of students on a bus chanting “I wish that all the ladies were holes in the road, if I were a dump truck, I’d fill them with my load.” A year later, the school’s then-principal Stephen Russell admitted an error in judgement after giving a reference to a colleague convicted of sexually grooming a Year 9 student.
Since then, the school has appointed its first female principal, Deborah M Barker. In a letter sent to students and parents this morning, and seen by VICE, she said that she had immediately taken steps to reach out to James so that she could listen to him and fully understand his journey.
“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,” she said in the statement.
“St Kevin’s College is on a journey of culture renewal, with a focus on inclusion and welcome for all.”
Robinson told VICE that while the appointment of a female principal was a step in the right direction, he views the issue as systemic, rather than an independant case.
“St. Kevin's is just a microcosm of everything else that's happening in the rest of the world. We need to adjust privilege in general; we need to adjust privilege in society.”
Previous and current students have responded to Robinson’s post with personal accounts of their own. One woman noted that a girl in her school had to deal with a circulating video of her “being fingered,” while another shared texts from a student harassing her, calling her an “object to a vast majority of men.”
Though allegations of the school’s toxic culture live on, for Robinson, the burning of his blazer was a symbol of regeneration and closure, rather than anger.
“For me, it was a very personal thing of burning that part of my life that I’ve moved on from since, and I hope students can emerge from the ashes in a new way,” he said.
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