Berkeley High School’s Title IX office has been host to a myriad of controversies spanning the past few years. Largely due to near constant staff turnover, a complex reporting process, and general lack of support for students that need its assistance, Berkeley Unified School District has faced student concerns, and is making a conscious effort to improve its infrastructure.
So how will the Title IX office be different this year, and how will it strive to serve the students?
A big development comes in the form of hiring new staff members. Jasmina Viteskic, who was hired last year, is BUSD’s new Title IX Coordinator and Compliance Officer. On top of that, the district is looking to hire a new Title IX Investigator, as well as fill a newly developed position — Title IX Student Support Counselor.
BHS teacher Genevieve Mage developed the position of Student Support Counselor and had it approved by Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) last year, to address a lack of emotional support for students going through the trying Title IX reporting process. When students report instances of Title IX violations like sexual assault and harassment, many have found the filing process daunting and confusing. This counselor will work closely with students to guide and advise them through the process, as well as advocate for their emotional and physical well-being.
“To provide that mental health component was very important for me, and I was very happy when Miss Mage’s idea came to fruition,” said Viteskic.
Additionally, the Title IX office is hoping to gain more student feedback, by meeting with the student Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (SHAC), a collection of leaders of BHS student clubs working on Title IX focused issues.
“I think it’s really important to have a clear connection between Title IX and the student body,” said senior Elise Nudel, SHAC member and president of the BHS Stop Harassing club. She explained that SHAC aims to provide that connection.
SHAC will help recruit the next consent educator, who will conduct consent education presentations for the student body. They are also focused on further educating the student population about how to file reports and recognize instances of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is not talked about a lot,” Nudel said. “So many people experience it, but some don’t even know they are experiencing it, because they don’t have information and resources to know what they’re going through.”
Nudel also further emphasized the need for more accessible information about Title IX for students, another major focus for SHAC this year.
Viteskic also noticed that students felt a disconnect from the Title IX office, because there weren’t enough Title IX staff members on campus. Because of this, she has decided to establish her own BHS office hours on Tuesdays and Fridays. “I really want to make my presence known, and be accessible to students,” she said.
Senior Ava Murakami, who serves as the commissioner of Women’s Rights and Equity at BHS, has dedicated herself to ensuring that sexual harassment and assault survivors find support through Title IX this year. She explained that she personally found the reporting process to be confusing and challenging, so she has a desire to educate students to her best ability.
Murakami detailed plans for a Title IX launch day, a walkout, informational posters, and an option to submit suggestions for alterations to the program.
“I want to amplify survivors’ wishes and hear their stories, because it’s a really painful process to go through, and I know that,” Murakami said. She emphasized the importance of students and faculty continuing to hold the administration accountable.
Additionally, at the beginning of the year, BHS held a meeting with the administrative team to inform staff of protocol surrounding student reports of sexual harassment and violence.
“I think that going into the school year, we have a very good team that has been trained to address (Title IX issues),” Viteskic said.