The Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent’s Gender Equity and Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (GESHAC) was established in order to provide education and address students’ issues concerning sexual safety and gender identity. GESHAC was formed in 2021 by former superintendent Brent Stephens to formalize the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (SHAC) which was run by community members and parents, but wasn’t officially under the district.
Jasmina Viteskic, the Title IX Coordinator, runs the committee along with Susan Craig, the Director of Students Services. “The purpose of (GESHAC) was to formalize an existing body, (SHAC), that (had) been functioning within the district,” said Viteskic.
There are also two student members on the committee: Katelyn Liao, the BUSD School Board’s Student Representative, and Leilah Dozier, the first-ever Title IX student intern.
“I plan to represent the Berkeley High (School) student body and students in the Berkeley School District community and relay their needs back to the board members and other parents and district officials,” said Dozier.
The other members of the committee include four elementary-level representatives, three middle-school-level representatives, four high-school-level representatives, two Berkeley community members, and Doreen Bracamontes, the Vice Principal of School Climate & Student Wellness, who serves as a permanent voting member of GESHAC. According to Viteskic, one of GESHAC’s goals for this school year was to diversify the committee.
There are two subcommittees in GESHAC, one that focuses on gender equity and the other that focuses on sexual safety. One of the main focuses of the gender equity subcommittee is increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms available at BUSD schools.
“If we don’t have the appropriate facilities, then (some students) don’t feel comfortable being in school,” said Viteskic. The difficulty in addressing this concern relates to the fact that adding more restrooms in older school buildings would require a full remodel, which would be a costly venture.
The sexual safety subcommittee focuses on sexual harm prevention education and the district’s process of following sexual harassment claims. According to Viteskic, consent education in BUSD starts in kindergarten, where students are taught how to respect other peoples’ boundaries and how to communicate their own boundaries. Children learn what a “safe touch” is and how to recognize and protect themselves from unsafe situations.
GESHAC works closely with the Title IX Office, Green Dot, and other Berkeley High School clubs and organizations focused on student well-being regarding gender and sexual safety.
“High school being the highest level of education in the district, there are older kids that can voice their opinions and feelings and things that they have faced throughout their years of learning K through 12 here in the district,” said Dozier. She believes that student input is vital when it comes to decisions that will affect their education experience and that she can help relay the needs of students back to the district through GESHAC.
In the 2024-25 school year, the GESHAC Student Representative will be a newly elected leadership position at BHS. The responsibilities of the representative will be to further provide an opportunity for students to voice their opinions on what needs to be done at BHS and in the school district as a whole.
“I think what everybody needs, to be honest, is just somebody that will listen to them, hear what they need, and hear what the school is not providing for them,” said Dozier.
Building on that sentiment, Viteskic said, “The main goal of GESHAC is to enhance … all areas of gender equity and sexual safety within the district and to advise the superintendent on what our school community needs, and what we as a community can do in order to really create a safe and inclusive space for all of our students.”