Over the past week, Berkeley High School Stop Harassing, a student run organization aiming to eliminate sexual harassment and assault at BHS, has been sending students to middle schools around the Berkeley Unified School District to give presentations on consent.
According to Elise Nudel, a senior and the president of BHS Stop Harassing, consent education is important at all ages, with variation in the curriculum to tailor it to the specific group.
“Ideally, consent (education) should be started as young as possible,” Nudel said.“The content has to be age appropriate to whoever you’re giving it to.”
In addition, the information they are teaching in middle schools is universally applicable. The consent education contained in the presentations pertains not only to sexual and romantic relationships, but to all interpersonal interactions.
“Relationships don’t just start in high school,” said freshman Eva Levenson, a member of BHS Stop Harassing who participated in the presentations. “You have relationships from when you’re zero on basically, and it’s important to know you’re not alone and how to help relationships get healthier and improve.”
Nudel continued, explaining the specific importance of consent education with the 7th and 8th graders they were presenting to.
“When you’re coming to high school, people are experiencing a lot of new interactions and a lot of new things,” Nudel said. “It’s really important to have that information so that you can use it in social settings.”
Nudel shared her personal experience with BUSD consent education. She described a lack of information and the notability of the missing piece.
“My whole education has been through Berkeley public schools and I never recall receiving any kind of consent education, which all of us experience. I feel like that’s a very vital part of growing up,” Nudel said.
According to junior Reba Gamson-Knight, the treasurer of BHS Stop Harassing, the presentations were met by the students with a surprisingly positive response, which curbed many of the expectations and fears previously held.
“I thought that it would be awkward, and they wouldn’t want to participate,” Gamson-Knight said. “But they’ve been extremely interested and interactive with the presentation and it’s just been really fun to get to see their reactions and to teach people about a really important topic and something that’s very relevant at Berkeley High.”
In addition to positive responses from students, the organization has also gotten responses and appreciation from adults involved, both this year and in previous years.
“I’ve gotten emails from counselors that I talked to about middle school presentations saying ‘thank you so much for coming. We really appreciate it. This information was super important,” Nudel said. “Last year, I know we got some feedback from parents, which was really good. Saying, ‘thank you for doing this, the school district wasn’t gonna provide it.’”
When discussing plans for next year, continuing the middle school presentations was described as a priority. This status gained by the necessity of consent education at these schools.
“It’s unfortunately happening to middle schoolers,” Gamson-Knight explained. “I think that a lot of middle schoolers don’t think that maybe it’s harassment or don’t understand what consent is. Just creating an understanding at such a young age that more people can start being activists so we can end the culture at Berkeley High.”
In addition to continuing the middle school presentations, BHS Stop Harassing plans to bring more consent education to Berkeley High classrooms.
“If we can get administration to allow us to give presentations to freshmen at Berkeley High, that would be the next step,” Gamson-Knight said. “Hopefully, that can happen also next year.”
By the responses to the middle school presentations by high school students, the organization has seen interest in widening the scope of this education. Taking these presentations to the high school level has been ascertained to be an opportunity that BHS students are excited for.
“We have a lot of people that weren’t even in BHS stop harassing that are presenting so we can tell that a lot of people are interested in bringing education to the Berkeley Unified School District,” Gamson-Knight said.
Nudel explained that because of the lack of action by the school district, the task has fallen upon students to bring consent education to their peers. BHS Stop Harassing organized to take matters into their own hands to improve the culture around sexual assault and harassment at BHS, using these middle school presentations as a part of their approach.