The culture at KEGS was super toxic, and I’m ashamed to say I often unthinkingly participated, mostly from feeling desperate to fit in and be accepted in what felt like a very closed environment. I’m a woman that came to KEGS in year 12 having attended a mixed secondary school beforehand. I have a strong Essex accent that was made fun of as soon as I arrived (despite KEGS being very much in Essex), and was consistently made to feel stupid because of it. There were lots of small cultural things like the constant ranking of girls by their appearance, and getting objectified by some of the younger students.
However, the thing that sticks out the most to me about my time at KEGS was the fact that I was very clearly in an abusive relationship that was laughed off by friends. I think this is very indicative of the culture of KEGS that perpetuates gender-based violence. The boy in question was popular, on the rugby team and a prefect. He’d often get drunk and be physically and verbally abusive. This often happened in front of people and they’d laugh about it. One time, he shoved me very hard into a kitchen counter because he was angry with me – I was shocked and scared, but the boys in our friendship group laughed and turned it into a joke. In the year book, he received the award ‘most likely to kill his girlfriend’. The teachers censored this and so were clearly aware of it, and yet nobody flagged it or came to speak to me as someone who was quite possibly a victim (regardless of this was a joke or not, there should have been someone there to protect me).
I also had a number of experiences with a male [subject redacted] teacher who was a well known misogynist and classist. It was even joked about by the teachers. On numerous occasions, he discouraged me from applying to Cambridge – he said I’d need 100% UMS, and should only apply to an all girls college. Needless to say, I did get into this university, only to have my tutors horrified that a teacher could have tried to discourage a candidate. Moreover, I experienced very classist remarks from him. On one particular occasion, he referred to me as ‘boorish’ to a group of boys after I’d left the room when he thought I was out of earshot. This was a clear reference to my strong Essex accent. I was extremely angry and felt very degraded that he had treated me this way – while he was made to apologise to me by the head of year, I was still quite dismissed with ‘we know he’s like that but what can we do?’. Honestly, I have even more examples than this to give, but this school bred an extremely toxic culture. I’m also a white person and so can’t speak from personal experience, but many of my POC friends expressed dismay at an underlying culture of racism. This needs to change – starting with the staff.