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La Trobe University SPEAKS UP for Culture Change and Ceasing Intolerance

The Australian Human Rights Commission has launched its report Change the course: National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. A quick analysis La Trobe is number 7 out of 39 in the country for sexual harassment. So there is work to be done.

Refer Australian Human Rights Commission for more information:

Richard Frampton, Director of Student Services speaks up about sexual harassment. He believes the survey is a fantastic piece of information to open up the conversation and NOT HIDE the issue. He indicates the importance of getting the conversation out that sexual harassment is not acceptable behaviour in La Trobe University. He speaks about the importance of respect of difference and tolerance for others. He mentions the issue of not being able to speak up. He speaks of the Hunting Ground video on sexual assault. He recognises sexual harassment and assault are prevalent.

He speaks of a victim centred approach, not withstanding the need for due process. He talks about clarity of sanctions and penalties for those behaving in this manner. He recognises the need to drive cultural change and any form of intolerance.

Here is the video from La Trobe University featuring Richard Frampton speaking up for change. It is followed by my own perspective.

I agree pathways to change culture must occur but I would develop an approach that moves away from an overall orientation of compliance and penalties mindsets towards cooperation and training in conflict resolution, emotional intelligence and really learning to listen to people with respect. So there is not a penalty imposed by but rather transformational cultural change that is inspired by an open culture. I regard the penalties approach as a form of policing and punishment to control and deal with, what is perceived as, problem behaviour rather than a therapeutic approach to transform conflict through education. This latter approach focuses on educating and developing understanding of underlying needs and concerns within a context of mutual respect. It empowers both involved in a dispute to take responsibility and own the solutions to a conflict. It removes the right versus wrong punishment approach which can escalate into legal issues. The choice is to alternatively move in a positive direction towards outcomes of mutual understanding and respect. I believe respect is a key issue. It can be written up in mission statements but do we truly understand what respect is? In my view mentally it is to make space for valuing the other despite the difference, hence allowing for another viewpoint. Emotionally we feel and make space for the reality of equality. What this does is opens awareness to the others right to freedom of thought and speech regardless of whether we agree or disagree. This stops judgement and distancing as we respect their right to choose. This is the basis of democracy.

Thus what can happen is that unquestioned or uncontested perspectives are decided without a willingness to engage in the conversation about attitudes and behaviours that are unresolved. The belief one side is right, within group think (people conforming with a predominant view) can blur the lines of neutrality and the prospect of opening to possibilities to resolution and instead seek to punish what is deemed wrong or threatening in some way. If there are no checks and balances or separation of powers then no contestable views can be made visible. It is not about being right but fair, that is the key to harmonising and resolving conflict. If neutrality cannot take place then there must be neutral third parties invited, accessed not just for staff but for students, alumni and visitors to the university. This must happen to ensure health and safety as a universal right. All, must be at a minimum, be able to access a fair and balanced complaints process akin to the Occupational Health and Safety guidelines to ensure equalization of power and the resolution of conflict. There must be no repercussions or exercising of power to suppress for fear of negative external appraisals. It is advisory that students are not treated as youth but adults, given the same processes and opportunity to present and express their case with advocacy.

Management, and those in decision making roles, are asked to consider that always there are two sides to all conflicts and that natural justice, is not just a term, but is about ensuring non bias and fairness. Accountability is not just a word but it is for each to own their part and have the strength to admit mistakes without repercussions, unless the errors were deliberately misleading. Truth telling is critical and within an environment of openness, the truth comes out. People tend not to be honest as they are afraid of the outcomes to their career or completion of their degree, PhD or reputation etc. so they hide, deflect or change stories to ensure a favourable end goal or at the very least, survival. Gandhi spoke of the ‘means justifying the ends’ as a modus operandi, I agree, the ends are not the means. In other words if values are central to the means, the means of ‘fairness’ will be valued and the end unfolds without control. The ends will always be positive ultimately if the means are couched within a genuine positive intent. When the end goal is ‘stated’ like protecting university interests (no matter what) then a university opens itself to abuses of power and concealing etc. Those involved in the process must have faith that those in power really are adhering and internalising high standards of integrity and fairness, otherwise those watching them for leadership will lose real hope and eventually become part of dissenting voices.

In positive cultures – critique, integrity, openness, respect, friendliness, accountability and responsibility would be rewarded as catalysing win/win solutions. All challenges are deemed as opportunities. Management gets up close and personal with staff, students and visitors to the university so that they are tuned into what is happening and leading by example. The ivory tower is then no more as all enjoy integration into a vibrant community.

Alternatively, fear based cultures will encourage secrecy, silence, suppression, group think and punishment which makes the community uneasy and fearful of change without real input. They may experience doubling of workloads without any consideration for their health or confront intransigent attitudes that tow the line without due consideration to others needs. The term ‘moving forward’ is a common statement I’ve heard where superiors may sooth themselves regarding painful change as progressive whereas others may perceive it as uncertain and overwhelming. So the challenge is to create environments genuinely open to diverse viewpoints being aired, to speak up if changes are creating issues for health, safety, balance and happiness. It is to deeply listen and question change and support those who are experiencing difficulties. It is not to push out those who do not conform, or are perceived in ways not approved of or indeed pose a risk to prevailing views but to embrace diversity. It is a little like the sand that creates the pearl. Contrast is what brings excellence as you are forced to confront uncomfortable aspects you may want to recoil from. That is, aspects you do not own. What we resist is inner conflict, fear is what drives the resistance, it is to understand the fear that enables you to embrace the contrast. I feel to explain this, we cannot force the world to change to make us feel happy, it is to focus on inner discord and transform it, thus externals will change. This is not known in business/institutional circles but it drives to the core of what we see in the world is a reflection of ourselves, thus change must happen within. Thus with positive intent, positive cultures will permeate from the top down and from the bottom up. It becomes who we are. Everyone comes on board as it feels good.

Richard Branson is a master of this type of business culture. He sees Virgin as intricately linked to the global community. He invites input and offers more say to his workforce. He is open to changing with the times, he recognises social and corporate responsibility are one in the same and he listens deeply to his staff within a framework of respect and fairness. As a leader he embraces challenges, he doesn’t like public speaking but became a speaker. He faces risks with courage as he did ballooning and sailing around the world. That is moving beyond fear to explore possibilities. He is quoted as ‘doing good is good for business’. That is why he is successful. This is an article about his approach to change.

He has influenced many global companies refer

I am personally not for negative punishment models but positively learning from dialogue and examining outcomes or consequences. I believe in empowerment as a better way of attitudinal and behavioural change. Empowerment gives power to others it does not take it away. Disempowerment actually creates risks to health and safety in my experience. The old paradigm of traditional control tends to disempower through tighter controls. That is not to say an organisation doesn’t have policies and procedures, it should, but to look at where people are disempowered or where one side has more power than the other. That is what you look for. In my view, the old paradigm is no longer effective in todays society (global society) with its many issues, complexities and disruptions. Disruption must not be seen as a problem but an opportunity to learn flexibility and resiliency. Social norms are changing and young people are confronted by a loss of values, increasingly violent global media, social media, wars, climate change, rampant consumerism, greater insecurities, family breakdown, tighter regulatory environments, surveillance and fears about the future. In my view we have to learn how to work together to achieve positive results for all. This requires unending dialogue, peace building in communities, moving towards the middle ground and finding win/win solutions that work. In truth one must become very flexible to really embrace differences and rapid change. That is enhanced by international students as they have completely different cultural values and comprehension. Others may think their values and norms are common knowledge.

It is so important that even in difficult disputes where reputational issues are at stake or differences of opinion, that the university management has the courage to face problems and not favour corporate interests as the rationale for unfair decisions or protecting interests by removing problems. Those in governance must be 100% living in integrity with renowned ethics that are truly believed, speaking up as examples. Being seen to be is not going to cut it when things go wrong. What has to be understood is that respect is gained when the community recognise the management really are motivated by the highest good of students, visitors, alumni and the Australian community. They are clear about their purpose and not being influenced by other voices who seek self interest. They can call upon those in their immediate and broader community to work with them to assist in problem solving, enlightened and innovative projects and tackling challenges such as: government withdrawing funding and the implications of this for decision making and the future of Australian universities. Why not become more active like ‘activists’ and really stand up for the integrity and potential of education that serves not only the community but a world in real crisis. There are always creative pathways that can be taken when one is a principled leader. I think the world needs enlightened universities headed by those committed to their public that are not solely defined as corporate models of profitmaking spruiking mantras of growth where intellectual property (public) becomes private property rights as business infiltrate university funding streams and culture. In my view they have to stand up for independence and to be fully funded by the community they serve, otherwise the universities will fall into foreign hands and the Australian taxpayer loses another public asset. Whilst it is great to see foreign students on Australian campuses as they bring an international focus, cross cultural understanding and it is a great experience for the student to experience Australian society, that must not be the primary focus. My hope is that they are not all from elite backgrounds who can afford expensive university courses but from a cross section of bright students who have merit. Another Einstein or Marie Skłodowska Curie could be out there that are missed due to economic disadvantage. Government policy and universities can affect social systems in other countries if only those with money access foreign education. It gives them an advantage over other students who are not funded but gifted.

Equality and respect is an important social issue, not only for gender but across the board. Thus, it is important that the temptation to make more money is not supplanting Australian students access to university places as they don’t pay enough, hence influenced by basic economics. Another issue is students accessing low fee courses at university and again, the government must be held to account on not undermining a public good, in my view, as this impacts equality in the Australian social order. Only wealthy people gain access to education. This is potentially devastating to the ethos of egalitarianism as part of the Australian culture.

So what does this have to do with sexual harassment?

It is the bigger picture behind why it is hard for universities to tackle negative issues like sexual harassment. It is a reputation problem they face. Mindsets have focused on rational issues not social-emotional issues. It is also a government funding problem as universities have to find more funding. All 39 Australian universities would have been devastated by the Human Rights Commission Report as it affects their international standing as favoured educational providers in a highly competitive environment. This means that governments around the world know there is a sexual harassment problem in Australia they will turn to other countries to send their students. Thus the loss of what is important revenue streams. However, I would add that sexual harassment is evident in all countries around the world and far worse in some, given attitudes towards women are universally problematic. It is unlikely other governments would do the research as they are not awakened to this issue. Myself, as a woman, I am well aware of the challenges women face, I’ve been sexually abused, attacked and harassed many times in my life. I’ve never had a voice or any recourse. I know how tough it is to speak up. For me, the worst is to be ignored. That renders you non-existent. You can only repeat yourself and hope one day you are heard. The issues of respect and fairness are key.

So there needs to be a conversation not only about sexual harassment as it is gaining intense media attention but the quality of universities and the ethics and values they promote but have shown inconsistencies in application. They have to develop these values as the real point of their humanity not only a strategy of marketing differentiation. Values underlie why people choose an institution and this is what brings a real sense of security, safety and inspired innovation to those within the community. To be truly included and not isolated or blocked from involvement in a public university due to speaking up must become a ghost of the past as we move into a future of not only tolerance but acceptance of different voices. Harmony based cultures and real enlightenment about who we are and to discover our true purpose is to benefit humanity. To involve women and men in all endeavours, to not discriminate and to realise that there are only opportunities in disguise waiting for those wise enough to grasp the initiative. The report by the Australian Human Rights Commission is an opportunity to really develop world class universities, my hope is that La Trobe University will not only be seen to be but actually become a great university that develops humanities as an equal part of its science and technological focus. Economics without humanity is the reason these issues have surfaced and will continue to, not only in universities, but around the world.

Imagine a ‘reformation of universities’ into true guilds of enlightenment they used to be. Spaces of lateral, innovative and radical thought that break through the outdated boxed thinking we call logical reality, towards inspired geometric balance as harmony (homeostasis) in all what we be, do and say. This is why the Agora at the centre of the Bundoora campus is there. The Divine Comedy copper pyramid is another icon of going through the darkness to reach enlightenment. The other that comes to mind is the naked female neeling before the management building. I see her as ‘naked before truth’. Indeed to break out of conservatism and convention and really explore infinite possibilities as a lived truth. That is my inspired wish for the La Trobe University I believe in.

My time as a student at La Trobe university was one of the most wonderful years of my life. I learned Peace Studies there and my teacher was the best in his field, a true world expert in Gandhian nonviolence. It was a springboard for me to explore peace in the world. I travelled extensively and gave deep thought to nonviolence, values and peace in our world. You may visit to see what has emerged from having an education and following my dreams. I am deeply grateful for that experience. I came to La Trobe to learn peace and I believe I am getting closer to that goal as I speak up for my own truth and treat those who differ with respect. They were my greatest teachers and still are. I see the importance of them.

It was Gandhi who envisaged ‘to be the change you wish to see in the world’, this combined with freedom of speech are the levies that produce greatness. The world is our mirror and if seems to be getting worse we must look at ourselves and what we value. To make a better world we must look within and find what is not in alignment with our vision. I envisage a peaceful world which is why I work on peace every day of my life. I am not perfect but it is my goal. I wish peace for every person as I have cultivated ‘love’ as my modus operandi of actioning peace. The two are intrinsically linked. To find peace around sexual harassment is to speak up about it, to express one’s truth, to do this with respect and to allow for differences. For me it is about problem solving as to why this happens. For example some questions to open up inquiry:

How do people become emotionally detached and not feel empathy for the other?
How do we create social emotional understanding?
How do values become transformed into living belief systems?
How do people reconnect with their true humanity so they can feel again?
How do we remove victim consciousness and replace it with empowerment?
How do we create cultures of responsibility and accountability?
How do we create social communities that are engaging in dialogue?
How do we create conflict resolving communities to deal with issues at the grass roots level?
How do we advance positive psychology over fear based toxic cultures?
How do we create cultures of peace?
How to move to problem solving away from the blame game?
How to choose respect and fairness? (equality)
How to develop assertiveness to deal with problems quickly?
How to inspire those in governance to lead by example rather than recoil as risk adverse?
How to create open, friendly, inclusive healthy cultures from the top down and the bottom up?

These are critical questions that drive to the heart of our humanity. That is why humanity and human rights are a life lesson that have come to all of us for healing. There are no mistakes in this life.

I send peace and happiness, all ways.