Maleny High Graduates inspire conversation for positive change

By Sonia Isaacs Clark

THREE recently graduated Maleny State High School students have shown that in raising concerns around sexism experienced by young people in schools, and encouraging the need for more empowering ‘real world’ conversation, young women of today are inspiring advocates for positive change.

In chatting with 2021 Dux of Maleny State High School Miranda Zipperlen and her two best friends Anika Sumby and Rhoen Kennedy, GC&M News found that like many senior students, grade 12 proved to be a difficult but rewarding juggling act; however, in addition to the demands of school work, the three young women felt increasingly drawn to address issues of sexism.

Miranda said that, ultimately, she and her friends wanted to raise awareness with their peers and educators that this behaviour was happening, and to encourage ways that these concerns could be safely addressed through greater reporting, open discussion and continuing education around healthy relationships, sexuality and respect for all.

“We were finding that in our senior year there was a sense that we weren’t fully united as a group, and sexism was occurring through shaming and discriminatory behaviour, ‘double standards’, cyberbullying and negative stereotyping,” said Miranda.

She said a key obstacle experienced by young people, was a fear of speaking out and reporting behaviour, and so she and her friends were keen to ‘normalise the conversation’ by encouraging students to speak up, and share their experiences.

“Peer pressure can mean people feel that if they speak up they can become the problem rather than the actual issue.”

Using a variety of tools from sharing informative social media posts on sexism, to calling out sexist behaviour, lunchtime conversations with students and scheduled meetings with school educators and heads of departments, the three friends explored ways to encourage greater discussion as a way to advocate change towards a safer, more open and inclusive community.

“I think it’s really important to not underestimate the impact of just being brave enough to talk about issues and try to remove the stigma from it,” said Anika.

“I’ve seen a lot of progress come from small conversations.”

The young women also voiced concerns that aspects of the current sex education curriculum lack relevance to teenagers with ‘gaps in education’ and content matter that doesn’t adequately engage young people today. The friends felt a review would be beneficial as well as the use of more inclusive content and language. Anika has subsequently been in conversation with school principal Deborah Stewart about the possibility of bringing in external resources to ensure a more inclusive program.

Miranda said she would like to see a continuation of sex education for senior students especially around issues such as consent, cohesive control and how to encourage healthy relationships. She would also like to see more reassurance and positive messaging around sexuality and decisions made by young people.

“We wanted to leave a space and more inclusive legacy for others where young people could have these discussions, have access to relevant and up to date information and be open to hearing other perspectives,” Rhoen added.

Main image: Anika Sumby, Miranda Zipperlen and Rhoen Kennedy