Berkeley High School (BHS) Spirit Week, one of the school’s longest-standing traditions, has been cancelled until further notice.
In the past several months, disruptions of many forms have taken place on campus, including fights, vandalism, the frequent pulling of fire alarms, and an incident with an adult coming on to campus with a gun. These challenges, along with teacher pressure, prompted Principal Juan Raygoza’s decision.
Many teachers have expressed their concerns regarding the dangerous environment that Spirit Week creates, and there were even threats of a teacher walk-out if the issue wasn’t addressed.
“I don’t know what the answer is, whether it’s canceling Spirit Week or something else, but I definitely think that something needs to happen to interrupt the behavior,” said BHS history teacher Steadman Rogers. “There’s a lot of verbal, physical, and sexual harm that happens on that day … and I support the administration doing something about it.”
Chloe Burke, BHS senior and Associate Student Body (ASB) president, encouraged students to reconsider how they see the situation.
“I wouldn’t call this a cancellation of Spirit Week,” Burke said. “If you look deeper into Mr. Raygoza’s email, it says ‘at BHS right now.’ If I knew it was going to be cancelled, I would feel disappointed, but I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as a postponement.”
For many students , however, disappointment is still their initial reaction.
“Spirit Week and Rally Day are just really embedded in BHS traditions and culture, and we were expecting it as sophomores,” said sophomore Gursimar Kaur. “We didn’t get to do anything last year, and now that we’re back to in-person [learning] it was something we were all looking forward to, to kind of assimilate into the school culture,” Kaur added.
Senior Norrie White said, “Seniors are just disappointed. … I remember seeing all the other classes freshman year, and they had so much class unity and looked like they were having so much fun. I was so excited to be able to do that as a junior and a senior, and now, it might just not happen, which sucks.”
On social media during the days following Raygoza’s announcement, several posts promoting plans for a student-led Spirit Week circulated, despite Raygoza’s promise to punish those who disregarded his message. One of the most prominent posts included plans for both regular and senior dress-up days and culminated in a Rally Day, which is one of the most controversial parts of BHS Spirit Week.
“In past years, Spirit Week has unfortunately included … students under the influence, fights, sexual harm, and the eventual involvement of Berkeley Police Department officers to disperse crowds as they make their way through Downtown Berkeley,” Raygoza said in his email, mostly referring to actions on Rally Day.
Although students can sympathize with the struggles that Rally Day creates, many believe the cancellation of Spirit Week is a large step for what they see as a concentrated problem.
“I think [there are] better ways to [keep school safe] than just cancelling Spirit Week,” White said. “Rally day is the most dangerous part of Spirit Week, so I think they could adjust that instead of just ruining the week for so many people,” she added.
Another large issue in students’ eyes is the lack of communication between administration and students. “Not giving students any warning and just sending an email about all of the consequences if anyone does anything Spirit Week or Rally Day related is just making an [administration] that’s already so disconnected from the student body even more hated,” said White.
Issues have arisen between the administration and student body many times in recent years, especially in regards to student demands concerning sexual safety and consent education, and bridging the gap at times appeared unachievable. This is one of the reasons that Burke, student leadership, and Raygoza are working on a project similar to a town hall.
“I know the general student body is very angry, and I feel like communication definitely broke down between them and the [administration],” observed Burke. “We really just want to have a positive [BHS] before we have a Spirit Week, so it’s not over yet,” Burke concluded.