“[The Barbecue Club wanted] power, prestige, privilege. They wanted all the benefits of being part of the club and none of the responsibility or accountability of being tied to one of the most visible aspects of rape culture on campus,” said Angela Coppola, a Berkeley High School (BHS) social studies teacher in Academic Choice (AC) and a key leader in dissolving the infamous Barbecue Club during the 2018-19 school year.
The club had been present at BHS since the early 2000s, beginning when students hosted a barbecue on the MLK Jr. Civic Center lawn. In 2012, the club “would essentially put on this barbecue [where students] would … have a whole lot of fun [and] … share food and music with all of our peers and teachers, and ultimately, we donated our proceeds [to charity],” said Hunter Maverick Irvin, a BHS alum who was co-president of the Barbecue Club his senior year.
Irvin explained that during his time at BHS, the Barbecue Club presented an overall positive message. In 2012, the profits from each barbecue were donated to Oakland International High School, a school for recently immigrated students.
Each Barbecue Club president selected a new leader for the next year. Irvin recalled his feelings on this selection process: “[When you] have to … let people know that what they’re doing is actually over the line, that’s a stressful position to be in. I remember the person I chose to take over … was someone who I thought [would] be able to draw the line when he needed to.”
However, over time, the culture of the Barbecue Club changed for the worse.
“The Barbecue Club was just like a frat at high school. It held many of the same connotations of Greek life, it was very exclusive, there was technically [an initiation] because you had to buy the jersey to get in, they worshiped toxic masculinity and hooking up with as many people as possible,” said Mackenzie Nye, a BHS 2018 graduate and former member of BHS Stop Harassing.
After several years, BHS students and staff called for the club to be disbanded due to its culture of racism, misogyny, and sexual violence.
In 2018, Coppola moderated a discussion between Barbecue Club members and the female students they had harmed, and recalled, “When it was over, [the girls] wouldn’t even shake some of the boys’ hands because they [had been assaulted] and the boys were upset by it, because it singled them out.”
When Nye was attending BHS, she noticed that “there’s definitely a culture of harassment in sports. I think Berkeley High loves [to say], ‘we’re Berkeley, we’re better, this doesn’t happen here,’ but sports culture can still feed into sexual harassment culture, even in Berkeley.”
Many members of the Barbecue Club were on BHS sports teams, and although club jerseys are no longer paraded down the halls, addressing and preventing toxic sports culture was a top priority for Jerem Stothers, first year coach for the BHS boys lacrosse program.
“When I came here this year, my focus was to first and foremost develop these kids on and off the field. Obviously coach them on the field, but my priorities are to really develop them into young adults that thrive in the community,” said Stothers.
Whole-team conversations and maintaining accountability are two important methods of tackling the harmful behavior that was present in Barbecue Club.
Stothers reflected, “If we need to take 20 minutes to correct behavioral issues or cultural issues, be it … sexism, homophobia, racism, or fighting, it’s going to be addressed and it’s going to be understood how I view the importance of saying the right things, of standing up for what [we] believe in, [and] for having each others’ backs.”
Continuous education and community action are essential in order to stop history from repeating itself and a new Barbecue Club from forming. “Each new generation of boys needs to be educated [to prevent misogyny and assault],” said Coppola.
Different BHS sports teams are beginning to incorporate the Coaching Boys Into Men program into team culture, and consent education workshops at BHS are ongoing.