In the middle of second period on February 10 of 2020, thousands of Berkeley High School (BHS) students left their classrooms and streamed into the courtyard, all in protest of sexual harm. Tensions had been building in the weeks before, from the list written on the bathroom wall, to the exposure of a court case against the BHS Title IX office, and the feelings of powerlessness throughout the student body.
The 2020 sexual harm walkouts were a monumental moment of unity and a pinnacle of the strength of student activism. Now, two years later, what do the lasting effects of these protests look like at BHS?
2020 BHS graduate Ayisha Friedman, a leading organizer of the walkouts, said that her parents attended BHS in 1993. “The same exact things happened when they went to Berkeley High,” Friedman said. “So it’s been going on forever, this culture that Berkeley had.”
By 2020, BHS students were exhausted by the broken system.
“On the surface level was this kind of exasperation with the culture that had been going on since before any of us had even gotten here, and then I think on a deeper level, it was really a lack of feeling like we had voices in our community,” said Berkeley International High School (BIHS) senior Abigail Lamoreaux, BHS’ Commissioner of Women’s Rights and Equity.
A list of demands were drawn up by the organizers, including consent education, training for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) staff on Title IX, and requiring the program Coaching Boys Into Men for sports teams. According to the Title IX office, every single demand on the original list has been addressed, if not fully met.
Additionally, students have reported an increase in attention to issues surrounding sexual harm from both BHS administration and their peers. “You did see a little bit more commitment from the district, you saw more consent and trainings, you saw a little bit more sex ed, and you saw students raising their voices more,” Lamoreaux said.
The walkouts also inspired the younger generation of BHS students to continue to fight for fair treatment. 2021 BHS graduate Mia Redmond, an instrumental organizer of the walkouts, said, “I think what we did had an impact that you can see now because people are talking about it and are working on doing things to try to prevent these issues.”
Lamoreaux believes that the power that was obtained in this event has changed the perspective of students on the value of their own voices.
Students are finally realizing that it’s better to not be divided, and it’s better to figure out what we want to see from each other, and then work towards getting it from the people who have the power,” Lamoreaux said. “I think it definitely showed that student unity was the best policy when it came to getting anything done.”
Friedman also felt a shift in how the community discussed these issues; the walkouts changed it from a subject to tiptoe around to one that is necessary to discuss. “Just the fact that people are still talking about [the walkouts] means that people are still discussing the issues that we wanted to raise awareness around,” Friedman said. “Nobody openly talked about this stuff outside of their friend group before.”
However, the work is far from over. “I think that we have just gotten into dipping our toes into the water of what needs to be done,” Lamoreaux said.
2021 BHS graduate Melani Garcia added that BUSD must still be proactive in practicing preventative care. According to her, BHS must also offer more nuanced sexual education for administrators and students, as well as clear consequences for perpetrators of sexual harm.
Jasmina Viteskic, BUSD’s new Title IX coordinator, recognized that although the original demands have been met, “I don’t want to be too optimistic and say we achieved all of it and now we’re done,” Viteskic said. “I think it’s a work in progress. And I think that we constantly can improve,” she said.
These protests have paved the way for change at BHS, but in order for that to happen, the community must continue to work towards a better culture. “I hope the newer generation at Berkeley High is getting what we fought for,” Garcia said. “But at the same time, I hope that they’re still trying to do something and I hope they don’t let it go.”