In February 2020, hundreds of Berkeley High School (BHS) students walked out in protest of rape culture and sexual assault at BHS. Several demands were made, including implementing consent education for all Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students beginning in the sixth grade, and instating staff training for management of sexual harm.
Now, BHS’s administration is making efforts to confront these issues again, but COVID-19 has been presenting challenges.
For consent education specifically, the school has plans for in-person educational assemblies this year, according to Dean of Students Claudia Gonzalez.
Receiving special permission from Superintendent Brent Stephens to host in-person assemblies, the administration is currently planning to conduct in-person consent education assemblies for all grade levels at BHS in late October and early November. Title IX staff training is also scheduled to take place during the professional development day on October 11.
“The process of planning these large in-person gatherings has definitely been impacted by the pandemic and it has caused delays in being able to finalize the plans and logistics,” Gonzalez said in an email. “We have been planning carefully to adhere to [COVID-19] and safety protocols and we are very excited that these assemblies will be taking place very soon.”
Gonzalez expressed her gratitude towards several student organizations, including the Sexual Harm Advisory Committee (SHAC), the Women’s Student Union (WSU), BHS Stop Harassing (BHSSH), and Associated Student Body (ASB) Leadership, which were instrumental in the process of addressing issues of sexual harm and consent education.
Maize Cline, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and co-president of the WSU, also commented on the impact of the pandemic on organizing consent education events.
“The assemblies with our guest instructor coming in looked like they weren’t going to be possible because the City of Berkeley wasn’t allowing us to have gatherings that were large at all for a while,” Cline said. “Our BHS administration lobbied really hard in order for us to get these trainings because we know that it is necessary.”
Cline added that the WSU hosted its own Title IX workshop on September 27 at the Aurora Theater, led by Alexandra Brodsky, a lawyer from Public Justice.
The BUSD School Board also approved forty thousand dollars of funding for Coaching Boys Into Men, a consent education program for athletes, at its September 8 meeting. Rebecca Levenson, an adult advisor for BHS Stop Harassing, praised this decision.
While acknowledging that some progress has been made, Levenson also emphasized that much work still needs to be done, particularly with respect to staff training.
“Have the issues been met fully? Absolutely not,” Levenson said. “There are complaints that will be coming forward later this month, that are all about students’ awful experiences trying to report or when administrators are interviewing them.”
Levenson characterized the administration’s response to students who have experienced sexual harm as “awful,” describing how students have had to tell their story multiple times to several different adults, which can force survivors to relive trauma. She said that administrators often respond bureaucratically, stating that the students need to fill out a report.
“BUSD desperately needs a trained social worker to make sure that the first stop, in terms of how someone is received after being harmed, is trauma-informed and kind,” Levenson said. “What they need is warmth and compassion.”