Respect, Dignity and Shared Humanity

When I was appointed Master in March 2019, I always wanted 2020 to be a year that I would never forget. My wish has been more than fulfilled but it brings me no pleasure whatsoever to confirm that this is for reasons very different to the ones for which I had hoped. As so many have noted, we have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for six months, but the world has been grappling with the virus of racism for millennia. The brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of the very people whose role it is to protect society has sparked direct action and community protest around the globe under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement which we have all seen on our screens in recent days.

The Lower Sixth College Prefects were quick to contact me last week and, as a result, they showed immense leadership by messaging the internal Wellington College community both to condemn in the strongest terms what happened on that street-side in Minneapolis and also with a series of suggestions as to how Wellingtonians could do something meaningful in response. I whole heartedly support them in this endeavour and we are continuing to work together to produce a public statement and series of external communications for social media.

At the heart of what it means to be a Wellingtonian are the values of courage and respect, as well as a deeply held desire to engender a compassionate and broad inclusivity into the hearts and minds of the young women and men who are educated at our school. This mission is at the heart of our identity and values as an organisation. I am a realist, however, and no matter how far we have come as a community in recent years and decades, I understand fully that there is much more we could and should be doing at the College. Last term’s assembly theme was ‘celebrating difference’ and we were lucky to welcome Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging who delivered a powerful and deeply thoughtful address to a packed Great School back in January on the issues she explores in this brilliant book.

As national populism increases around the world, however, and as COVID-19 drives an increasing number of countries to look inwards and shift blame outwards, never has there been a more important time to fight for justice and equity within our societies, and to reaffirm our organisational commitment to treating all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, with respect, dignity and a deeply held appreciation of our shared humanity. There are many things on my to-do list for the years ahead, but this is as important a priority as any if we are serious about producing young men and women able to go out into the world to make it a better place.

With thanks to our College Prefects and Father Adrian, our Chaplain, for reminding me of these wise words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

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