Q & A with White Ribbon Ambassador David Cournane

Today we would like to introduce one of our White Ribbon Ambassadors, David Cournane. David is the HoD of Physical Education and Health at Wellington College. David has been the driver in introducing the White Ribbon Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme (YALP) into the Wellington region this year and is the local co-ordinator for the Programme. We are extremely grateful for the time and effort he has put into this important initiative. As he is an educator working with young men we wanted to ask him a few questions about why he chose to become involved, what he sees as the challenges for young people and how we can assist them to overcome them and make real change in New Zealand attitudes to violence in the future.

Can you tell me a little about your background?

I grew up in the deep south in a little place called Te Anau in a loving family environment.  I studied in Dunedin where I was first exposed to some degree of toxic relationships between men and women. I qualified as a teacher in 2001 and have been working in boys’ education since 2003 at St Pats Silverstream and Wellington College.  My wife is the Black Ferns manager, and I have two young sons (9 and 6).

When did you first learn about White Ribbon?

I have known of White Ribbon for a number of years, but became more entrenched in the philosophy of the organisation after attending a White Ribbon event in Petone at the end of 2017 where Michael Kauffman, one of the Canadian founders of White Ribbon, gave a workshop and facilitated discussion.

Why did you decide to become an Ambassador?

In my role as an educator of young men, both as a middle leader and school wide leader in boys’ schools, I recognised the potential power I have to positively influence the values and actions of graduates of my school.  We have some amazing kids in our schools, but we also have a lingering tolerance for unacceptable attitudes towards women, and if I can in anyway positively influence this situation then I feel obliged to do so.

How do you find students respond to the White Ribbon kaupapa?

When the time is taken to take them through the White Ribbon material, and engage them with the kaupapa, students respond very positively.  They know and understand the key learnings around what makes a relationship healthy- for many they are just in a position where other influences in their lives (parental attitudes, media, peer group, etc) directly contradict the messages we are trying to give.

Why did you decide to take on leadership of the Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme (YALP) in Wellington?

I was looking for opportunities to impact upon the attitudes and beliefs of as many young people as possible.  Because of the timing of the White Ribbon campaign in November, when senior students have left, and the traditional insular practices of schools, my capacity to influence within my own school was relatively limited.  The YALP allows for as many schools as possible to develop their student leaders with the capabilities required to make a difference within their own schools across the wider region, at a time when all cohorts are still at school.  I absolutely believe that all schools want the best for their students in terms of holistic education, and all schools want to collaborate with others to achieve this.  The birth of this programme gives them that opportunity.

What challenges do you think young men are facing now that didn’t exist in your day? And how do you think we should react to these?

As alluded to above, young people are faced with much more information, opinions and diverse values than any generation before them.  I attended a conference on youth well-being a couple of years ago that talked about young people receiving the amount of ‘information/ideas’ we received in a year, in a week.  This bombardment of new ideas makes it incredibly difficult to filter out the valuable from the dangerous.  Related to this is the online accessibility of not only hardcore pornography, but also other warped views and values towards relationships accessed through dating apps, reality tv, etc.

Students sharing their ideas at the YALP

To respond to this, we need to be developing critical minds – young people capable of more effectively sifting through this bombardment of information, and engaging only with that which builds themselves and others around them up.

What are the things that make you worried?

The difficulty of trying to shape hearts and minds, when the more powerful influences of previous generations in their family, and the media they engage with, can be working at complete cross purposes.  I also worry that quality young men become labelled as something they are not.

Finally, I worry that aspects of our society seem more reluctant than ever to stand up and say something when negative things are happening (the bystander effect).

What are the things that make you hopeful?

Momentum for change is a wonderful thing, and when we get people in positions of power who have the skills to generate this momentum then great things can happen as we can see nationally with Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, and within our school community in the leadership of Principal Gregor Fountain.

I interact with some wonderful young people on a daily basis, and if they can find the strength to influence the worlds they exist within beyond school then the impact will be great.

Ambassadors, like David, are vital to spreading the White Ribbon kaupapa and getting projects like the Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme and Business Accreditation into local communities around New Zealand. If you would like to become an Ambassador or would like to nominate someone else to take on this valuable role please complete the nomination form here or write to us at contact@whiteribbon.org.nz

To check out the Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme (YALP) click here

Comments are closed.