“SENIORRRSS! SENIORRRSS!” The chant rings loud through the hallways as students pack together like a herd of sheep. A rancid smell washes over the walkway, eggshells and other miscellaneous items littering the ground. Students line the windows, shouting from above into the swarm of students below. As more students join the mass of people, shouts of “23! 23!” echo throughout the breezeway. Despite this loud and cohesive show of school pride, a defined difference remains between students who are rallying for class spirit and those who are simply trying to get to their class.
Senior activities have grown in rowdiness over the past few years, with issues like drinking and drug use in the forefront. While some students can afford to skip class and partake in risky activities, others can’t risk having any bad actions on their record. It is undeniable the role that privilege plays in senior culture at BHS.
Events such as Freshman Friday and Rally Day are long standing traditions at BHS, and remain defining characteristics of the BHS experience. Despite that, these activities weren’t always as wild as they are known to be today. Spirit Week used to include competitions for service and community activities, and each class would help clean up the campus in a friendly competition. In recent years however, Spirit Week and Rally Day have caused safety concerns between students and staff.
Problems arise when students are peer pressured and have to choose between their academic and social life. While many students may be attending senior parties or doing drugs on campus, others have to tend to younger siblings at home or work jobs after school making it impossible to participate in the wild side of spirit events. Students involved in after-school activities like tennis or football have the ability to choose how they use this time, while students who are forced to make necessary commitments cannot.
In the past few years, students have become so out of control that the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) has been called to the school on multiple occasions. In 2014, one of the vice principals was hit in the head with a glass bottle, and in that same year, 15 students were arrested. BPD has played a vital but controversial role in BHS spirit events, with their involvement disproportionately affecting less privileged students.
Richard Conn, a teacher in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), expressed his frustration with the way students are disadvantaged during spirit events. While many students have the ability to drive themselves home after school, leaving their consequences behind as they leave the gates, Conn said other students are forced to stay after school for a variety of reasons and therefore they feel the consequences of spirit activities more than others do. Conn said that BPD has been known to “harass” the students who remain after school, and often they are ones who bear the weight of the student body’s actions.
Additionally, students are often afraid of the retribution they could receive from participating in Rally Day, and other large events. The consequences for reckless actions instill a fear of being punished for any actions school pride actions. The power that the administration holds over the student body incites equal amounts of fear and rebellion within the student population. Consequences on Rally Day can range from warnings to expulsions. Harsher punishments can often appear on a student’s permanent record. This can impact letters of recommendation as well as possible acceptance letters from colleges, with extreme cases causing them to be rescinded.
Students trying to achieve good grades in high level classes or trying to get into colleges through scholarships and aid can’t afford to, “stay in the halls past (the) passing period doing these chants,” said Harry Waterman, a BHS senior.
Waterman said that kids who have less to lose aren’t as worried about how they are viewed in the eyes of the administration. Waterman also clarified that he believes in the unifying aspects of spirit events for the senior class.
While students hope to feel a heightened sense of community through spirit events at BHS, they can’t be a unified body if some experience undeniable privilege when it comes to accessibility and outcome of spirit activities. For our school to truly be inclusive for all, we need to recognize the difference in privilege that exists, whether we intend it to or not.
9/25: This article has been edited to fix grammar and stylistic errors.