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Celebrating Respect

Last week, I attended my second Senior Campus student-led assembly. I have been taken aback by the passion that our students exude in running and delivering our Assemblies. The programs are engaging, thoughtful, and address current and real issues.

The first assembly for the year was last term, where Sherene Hassan joined us to talk about respect and the challenges she has faced as a Muslim female. Sherene is the Education Director at the Islamic Museum of Australia (IMA), a tireless ambassador for the Muslim community, and dedicates herself to creating a more inclusive and harmonious Australia. Through her museum tours, Sherene seeks to promote cross-cultural understanding and transform visitors' perceptions about the Muslim community while promoting respectful interfaith dialogue.

In 2016, responding to comments in the media advocating a ban on Muslim migration to Australia, Sherene wrote a letter to The Age reaching out to those who had shown support to the Muslim community by inviting them for coffee at the museum – 'her shout.' It began the incredibly successful 'Coffee with Sherene' event series. 

Sherene shared her perspective on living with cultural and religious differences. She asked us to develop a deeper understanding of others and show respect for those with different values and belief systems. Her address was heartfelt, and the student questions at the end of the assembly showed a deep empathy towards her experiences as a Muslim woman in our society. 

Being an Ally

Last week, we honoured our ANZACs and officially launched our LGBTQIA+ Policy at our first assembly for Term 2. We also heard about upcoming fundraising events, helping those less fortunate than us, and celebrated the talents of our Senior students through Drama and Music performances. 

Our students were reminded of the significance and meaning of ANZAC Day. On the 25 of April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. The ANZACs landed on Gallipoli and met fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. I want to remind students that these soldiers displayed endeavour. They cared for each other and were resilient during hard times. They gave of themselves, were disciplined, and prepared to sacrifice their lives for the love of their country. These soldiers respected one another and acted with integrity. We will long remember their service to their country. 

They were ordinary people that honoured the meaning of being Australian. Our military displayed values that align with our 3 Rs – Respect for Self, Respect for Others, and Respect for the Environment. Values determine our decisions and guide our lives to accomplish great things. We should strive to include these in our lives every day. As we remember those who have served, I encourage our students to reflect on these values and help us to be better people. 

We were also privileged to hear our guest speaker, Daniel Witthaus' story, about growing up as a gay male, coming out about his sexuality, and sharing his battle with others' perceptions of him. For almost 20 years, he has challenged homophobia in Australian schools and rural communities. 

Daniel is the author of Beyond Priscilla: One Gay Man, One Gay Truck, One Big Idea (2014), Beyond 'That's So Gay!': Challenging Homophobia in Australian Schools (2010), and the Pride & Prejudice educational package (2002, 2012) – which won three Tasmanian Schools Human Rights Week Awards.

Daniel was engaging and delivered a solid message to be a supportive friend by respecting others' choices and being an ally. He asked our students to share who had a friend questioning their gender or sexual identity and who had been a trusted confidant with a show of hands. It was immediately apparent that many have been in a situation where they provided support and guidance to those close to them. They also became aware that their first response to a friend who confides in them that they are 'coming out' can determine how valued that person feels. Daniel discussed strategies on how to validate friends in that scenario. 

I hope that his story resonated with our Woodleigh community. The next time the comment 'That's gay' is within earshot, ask yourself, 'Is that ok?' and, more importantly, 'How could that make someone else feel?'

NATALIE MCLENNAN
Deputy Principal - Head of Senior Campus