On April 26, the Berkeley High School (BHS) Stop Harassing organization began their consent education presentations to Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) middle schools. This has been a goal of BHS Stop Harassing for a while, according to BHS junior Elise Nudel, the secretary for BHS Stop Harassing.
Currently, BHS Stop Harassing is visiting the eighth graders at Longfellow, Willard, and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle Schools.
According to Nudel, the presentations include information about healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as what consent can look like in different scenarios. Members from the peer-education program, Green Dot, also spoke with BHS Stop Harassing about the program and their work throughout BUSD.
“Our presentation focuses on consent in all kinds of relationships,” Nudel said. “We made sure to specify that the relationships we were talking about could be romantic or friendships or even family relationships.”
She explained that this is different from how consent and sexual education are taught throughout school. Usually relationships are predominantly depicted as romantic or sexual, when the reality is that relationships come in many forms.
Susannah Bell, an eighth grade teacher and learning specialist at Longfellow Middle School, was appreciative of the opportunity the eighth graders had to learn about their growing sexuality and healthy relationships.
Bell described the importance of BHS Stop Harassing being completely student-led, as it shows students that “healthy and respectful boundaries about sex are coming from their peers.” This normalizes the expectation of consent among people of their own age, according to Bell.
Rosina Keren, a counselor at Longfellow, also described the importance of consent education from peers.
“Hearing from high school students who value respect and consent will hopefully encourage our students in the middle school to respect their peers, and to understand the importance of consent,” Keren said.
Keren added that it is critical to teach students consent as early as pre-kindergarten. Early on, they will learn respect for others’ bodies, and grow up to be better students.
Keren said she hopes the presentations will continue next year, and be extended to sixth and seventh graders. She also said it would be beneficial to keep communication open between the schools, and build relationships between students.
“Our goal with these presentations is to set in place a streamlined consent curriculum that all eighth graders are receiving before they enter Berkeley High,” Sampson said.
Sampson joined BHS Stop Harassing as an eighth grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. During her time in middle school, she had a strong admiration for the older students, and now hopes she can have that same impact on the current eighth graders.
It has been Sampson’s long term goal to give consent education presentations to the younger grades.
“The concept of consent and healthy relationships and respecting boundaries really should start being taught as soon as people learn that they have bodies, that they have bodily autonomy,” she said.
Sampson,along with other members of BHS Stop Harassing, felt that BUSD schools weren’t providing students with consent education at a young enough age, which led to the creation of peer-led consent presentations.
“I was an eighth grader getting harassed daily at King,” Sampson said. “I’ve had my bullies, I’ve had my fair share of toxic friendships. That is what has made me feel like I’m not up on a pedestal preaching about this, because it’s happened to me.”
Being back in her old classrooms at Martin Luther King Jr. middle school reminded Sampson of her experiences throughout middle school, and made her realize they were similar to those of the students she spoke to.
Sampson said that consent education for middle school students would hopefully make harassment issues less prevalent when they enter high school.
BHS Stop Harassing has begun coordinating next year’s presentations. Administrators have expressed interest in beginning presentations earlier in the future.