Mercy College head joins Board

Dr Michelle Cotter, as principal of Mercy College in Coburg and Board member of McAuley Community Services for Women, believes schools can play a vital part in educating young people about what sort of relationships are acceptable now and in their adult years. There are overt methods, as well as subtle cultural shifts from the top down.     

“We foster a culture of respect and hospitality. And it isn’t just an expectation we staff have of the students, it is at every level. I have morning tea with every Year 7 girl at some time in her first year and with every Year 12 girl in her final year. We try and convey to the girls that they are valued and respected. And we do expect them to treat each other that way,” Michelle said.

The hospitality Michelle considers so important is one of the values the school has ‘adopted’ from Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy and the woman who began the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland in 1827.

Catherine McAuley, a heroic figure to many in Mercy ministries and schools, is not the only female figure used to illustrate the importance of respectful, just and compassionate relationships.At Mercy College, current media issues are used as opportunities to discuss social justice issues with the students, and family violence is one such issue, as it is rarely out of the news.

The school’s goal is to create a social justice enterprise – a community of people who look after one another with the hope that students take this expectation and practice into their adult life.

“Family violence has been a very public issue for some time and we have used that to help the girls understand that violence in a relationship is not okay. They are very familiar with modern day women like Rosie Batty and what she has done to bring the issue of family violence to our attention,” Michelle said.

Michelle, who was educated by the Brigidine Sisters, has been at Mercy College for 13 years and principal for the last six. The school has developed close links with McAuley Community Services for Women with regular fundraisers to support the safe house and other services our organisation provides. But she is determined that the girls have an understanding of family violence issues as well as raising money for the much needed services.

Michelle was very familiar with the organisation when she agreed to join the Board this year. As well, she recently became a Catherine Circle member, committing financial support for three years.

“One of the things I didn’t realise until I joined the Board was that there were so few 24/7 safe houses for women, and their children, if they need to escape a violence situation. This is a really important service McAuley Community Services for Women provides,” she said.

“As a leader and an educator I see the work of McAuley Community Services for Women with a longer view to the ultimate ambition of living in a society where women are safe, secure and successful with diverse opportunities to live happy and fulfilling lives. I see the organisation as fundamental to supporting women and their families and influencing society to change how we empower women.”

“In small and big ways we need to influence mindsets and behaviours as well as social policies and attitudes. One avenue for having this influence is working with and through schools, in particular secondary students who can influence generational change. As a leader in Mercy education my background in leadership, strategic planning and management and continuous improvement hopefully will be assets to the Board.”