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Schools Follow in Footsteps of BHS Sexual Harm Movement

Students at several Bay Area high schools have organized walkouts and movements against sexual harm in recent weeks. 

Both Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) and Bishop O’Dowd High School students, in particular, have organized these events. They come at a time when sexual harm is still extremely prevalent at Berkeley High School (BHS), and around a year and a half after our own “Enough” movement from February 2020. 

Following BHS’s 2020 walkouts, students publicized a list of demands which included the hiring of a Title IX coordinator for BHS-specific cases, training for staff about the management of sexual harm, and mandatory consent education beginning in sixth grade for all Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students.

Similarly, O’Dowd students asked the administration to acknowledge the sexual harm at O’Dowd, instead of ignoring the issues. 

O’Dowd’s walkout was not the result of one specific catalyst, but the culmination of various events, including the reactivation of the Instagram account @odowdprotectors, which shares sexual harm stories from the school. The account was modeled off a similar one from BHS, called @bhsprotectors.

“[@odowdprotectors] helps you see what the O’Dowd community is actually like,” said O’Dowd sophomore Scarlett Crenshaw. “The other day, I saw a report about someone in my grade, and I know who they are, and seeing it just made me more cautious of who I’m hanging around.”

Students also circulated a list of demands for the O’Dowd administration, some of them similar to the demands made by BHS students.

“We definitely took a lot from what [BHS students] did,” said an anonymous organizer of the O’Dowd walkouts. The students’ demands and causes do differ from BHS’s significantly though, especially because Title IX likely does not apply to O’Dowd, as it is a private school.  

O’Dowd administrators have taken several steps to address the rape culture students have experienced, including the implementation of a new reporting system on October 4, and the creation of a Gender Justice Group two years ago. 

The O’Dowd walkouts were, however, not without their own problems. Several students criticized them for not being as inclusive as they could have been. 

“After the walkout, I was the one who went to my Twitter because I was disappointed, to be honest,” said ASB President Selma Apara. “I was saying how voices of color are very often left out of conversations of sexual assault. I also mentioned how queer voices are left out.”

Many of the organizers saw the lack of representation as a valid concern. However, one also said that the reason very few people ended up speaking at the walkout was because the administration stepped in, saying it could be triggering for students to share personal stories. One organizer also voiced overall frustration with the backlash they received from the students due to the amount of effort put into the walkout. 

OSA’s first walkout against sexual harm took place on September 30, and OSA students had a similar list of demands to those of BHS, specifically asking for background checks for all OSA guests, hiring or training a sexual assault liaison, and the abolition of a dress code. They also demanded monthly updates from administrators. 

The only two demands that the school has delivered on are regular meetings and the hiring of a Title IX coordinator, according to Susanna De Angelis Nelson, an organizer. She said the administration has focused on certain other things more than the list of demands.

Maya Mccall, another leader of the movement, said that while OSA wasn’t directly affected by the BHS walkout, they did draw some inspiration. 

 “There’s only so much that can be unique in a walkout, but we definitely recognize that BHS and other schools have been doing this, so it encouraged us in a way,” Mccall said. 

She also said that the OSA administration has placed an emphasis on not calling out perpetrators, telling students not to “cyberbully” abusers, or call people “rapists.” 

“There’s more emphasis on ‘Don’t call someone a rapist’ than ‘Don’t be a rapist,’” said Sam Gabriel, another leader.

Finola Jackson

Clara Brownstein

Writer

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