Alistair Kitchen and the Good Lad initiative
CW: Sexual assault, suicide
Two weeks ago I participated in a Good Lad workshop with Alistair Kitchen in the run up to O-Week at St. Paul’s College. The experience contrasted previous discussions of sexual assault, encouraging positive masculinity rather than a simple analysis of the legal framework surrounding sexual assault.
I sat down with Alistair after O-Week to discuss the Good Lad Initiative, as well as his experience at USyd.
Josh: Tell me about your university experience
Alistair: When I first moved to Sydney I studied a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English. I lived at St. Paul’s College for that entire period. After I graduated I took some time off to work, but now I’m back completing a Masters of Arts in philosophy. Undergrad was wonderful. I didn’t do very much work for the first three years, so I found that I had to learn everything during Honours. It was a great time.
Josh: Why did you start the Good Lad initiative?
Alistair: That’s a complex question. The single most significant reason is that, while I was at university, a number of women close to me were sexually assaulted on campus. Not all of those incidents occurred at College, but some of them did. It was frankly upsetting, and I wasn’t even the victim of the assaults. I was surrounded by, and participating in, a culture that facilitated the assault of the women around me.
Then later, one of those women - a close friend of mine - died by suicide. It was a signal that I had to do something.
It became clear to me, and I’m not just talking about the colleges, that the university male population was in need of being brought into the conversation around responsibility, gender and sexual assault.
Josh: What is the Good Lad Initiative?
Alistair: It’s a non-profit, pro-feminist organisation whose primary mission is to engage men in positive conversations about their masculinity. We do that by running workshops in groups of no more than 15. We begin with some introductory theory, then quickly move onto conversations about gender, consent, power, and responsibility.
Josh: What is the most constructive way to encourage positive masculinity in a young male population?
Alistair: The biggest thing is to recognise that men come from a specific context. They are individuals with beliefs and opinions, and they are worthy of being engaged in two-way conversation. Once you recognise that, you can start a dialogue in a positive way. We think that’s not only a more respectful approach, but it’s also a more effective approach. We’re interested in getting men to take on board these messages for themselves and develop their own positive internal framework.
Josh: How does Good Lad contrast itself with other methods of engaging men in a discussion around sexual assault?
Alistair: Most of the messaging that young men receive sets a really low bar. It is about insisting that men just obey the law and stop harming women. That approach is not only negative and minimal - it’s also fragile and ineffective. Obsessing about minimum standards is a poor way of ensuring minimum standards.
Instead we think it’s better to ask men to respond to the context of gender discrimination with their own internal, positive, moral framework. An internal code is more robust than anything someone else tells you to do.
So we try to go to men in their contexts and treat them as men deserving of respect, rather than merely tell them they are doing something wrong. It’s also about providing guys with a space to have this conversation among each other, because they rarely get that opportunity.
Josh: So it’s basically treating men as adults?
Alistair: Exactly. The core of our workshop is to appeal to the way men already see themselves. Rightly or wrongly, men already see themselves as ‘good men’, and we start there, rather than starting with the idea that men are perpetrators, or are inherently evil. That more positive beginning allows for more fruitful conversations and allows for men to more easily buy into the conversation.
Josh: What groups have Good Lad worked with before?
Alistair: St. Paul’s College were our first Australian group, but Good Lad first started in the UK. The programme has been running for four years in England and was founded at Oxford by a group of Australian men, two of whom were Old Paulines. They have worked extensively with the colleges at Oxford, as well as the Oxford Rugby Union team. Good Lad has also moved across the UK to various universities, as well as pro football clubs like Bournemouth and professional rugby sides. So I’ve been fortunate to be able to draw on widespread experience and apply that to an Australian context.
Josh: Do you remember your time at St. Paul’s College fondly?
Alistair: I do. Very fondly. I have mixed feelings about it, of course. I think everybody that comes out of a university college has complex feelings about their time there.
I found it a wonderful experience, but I believe strongly that college cultures can and must be improved. That’s partly why I’m doing this work. They are improving already and I’m interested in helping that happen. I think the colleges are a lot more inclusive than is commonly understood, but there’s always room for improvement.
Josh: What is the future of the Good Lad Initiative?
Alistair: If all goes to plan the Good Lad Initiative will be in every university in Australia within the next 5-10 years. My personal model is AIME, which was founded by Pauline Jack Manning Bancroft. I would like to see Good Lad as a widespread organisation present in high schools, universities, residential colleges, and professional sporting teams. We’ve already had conversations with some sporting bodies to make that happen. We have a fully trained team of volunteers and we want to partner with any institution that shares our values.