For a long time, student fights have been a large aspect of Berkeley High School (BHS). Fights have been witnessed on campus and spread through social media to the point where Instagram accounts have been made just for this reason. Videos have circulated of students fighting in the courtyard, hallway, and even at Papa John’s pizzeria. Recently, a fight broke out after a fire alarm, and swarms of kids ran around trying to capture the incident on video. Almost everyone has witnessed these fights in some manner throughout their time at BHS.
Though BHS has always had a history of fights, this year has seen a definite increase. Opinions vary on the reason for this increase, and largely unanswered questions remain; why is this happening and how is it going to affect BHS in the long run?
According to information gathered from an online poll on Instagram, some students believe that the fights are mainly because of rules not being imposed by the school. Others believe that the main contributing factor is COVID-19, and that the sudden return to in-person school has left many feeling agitated. Berkeley International High School (BIHS) senior and Chief of Publicity Adam Wilan suspects that the fights stem from “kids missing a year of school and a degradation in domestic conditions.”
Simon Shamji, a restorative justice expert and BHS parent, feels that “There are many reasons why students fight. Some fight because they are experiencing trauma or violence at home or in their community, while others may be dealing with mental health issues or other behavioral issues beyond their control.” Shamji continued by saying, “There are also those who may be responding physically to continuing verbal or emotional abuse or bullying or may be acting in self-defense as a result of a physical assault.” The varying reasons for violence mean that administrators and counselors must be equipped to respond appropriately to differring circumstances.
Though quarantine most likely has played a role in the increase of school fights, another factor leading to the surge in student violence could be a lack of security. BHS is a large school with approximately 3200 students. In comparison to this large number of students, there is a drastically small number of safety officers currently working at BHS. This is a part of the larger staff shortages that have been causing many problems, including many substitute shortages and a lack of custodial staff. Classes with missing teachers often end up in the library or College and Career Center (CCC). Overall, the amount of unsupervised student activity has increased significantly. When safety officers are feeling sick, they are required to stay home, and because of the lack of substitutes available, there is nobody to replace them. Teachers are often the ones that end up stepping in and stopping fights, but there simply aren’t enough adults to supervise the whole school.
As well as needing people to stop fights, the BHS community also needs teachers for students to talk to and feel safe with. “I am concerned about those who are resorting to violence rather than seeking help from adults at school. It makes me question whether there are enough counselors and available staff at school,” Shamji stated.
Though there is no way to pinpoint the causes of each individual fight that breaks out, the prevalence of violence is cause for concern. People engaging in physical violence are usually reacting to feelings of threat or emotional turmoil. For this reason, we must examine why many students feel distressed. We can all agree that safety should be a priority for our community. Despite conflicting opinions on student fights, our top goal should be to raise awareness of stopping violence to make sure BHS stays safe.