Berkeley High School students hold ‘black-out day’ to stop sexual harassment

G. Haley Massara/Staff

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Berkeley High School students sported pink pins and black T-shirts Monday as part of an anti-sexual harassment campaign orchestrated by a student activist group.

The student group, BHS Stop Harassing, distributed 500 black tees for students and faculty to wear on Monday’s “black-out day,” with plans to fundraise for more through a GoFundMe page, which had raised $6,000 by Monday night. Last week, the group held a teach-in to educate staff and students on sexual harassment and circulated a petition calling on the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education to change the high school’s sexual harassment policy.

Members of BHS Stop Harassing said the campaign comes as a response to how the administration has handled multiple harassment-related issues.

Alice Rossmann, one of the group’s founding members, said she took issue with an administrator’s remarks previously made at a school assembly. Rossmann felt that these remarks implied students who dressed a certain way deserved to be harassed.

According to Rossmann, the administrator later sent out an apology, but she felt that his words were merely a justification. The administrator could not be reached for comment prior to press time.
“I realize there are a lot of jobs the administration has to do, but I don’t think that it means that an issue like this should be considered any less important,” Rossmann said. “It’s really on the students to say we’re really not OK with this.”

Rebecca Levenson, a parent and adviser to BHS Stop Harassing, said another issue that sparked the campaign was the creation of student-run “slut pages”: Instagram accounts with photos of female students and unflattering captions.

According to school district spokesperson Mark Coplan, school administrators will discuss issues raised by the campaign later this week. Liana Thomason, a Berkeley High School senior and BHS Stop Harassing upperclassman representative, said the campaign received a “nonresponse” from administrators.

“No one has come up to us and said we don’t need this, because it’s very apparent that we do,” she said.

Thomason said the campaign plans on rewriting the high school’s sexual harassment policy, implementing a program to educate students and to train teachers and administrators and creating a standard for reporting incidents anonymously.

The petition to initiate these reforms — which, according to the BHS Stop Harassing Facebook page, has received 650 signatures so far — will be presented to the school district board at its Dec. 10 meeting.

“Every single girl in this group, no matter what grade they’re in or what they look like — they’ve all experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis,” Levenson said, citing catcalling as an example.

Elizabeth Liebman, a 2011 Berkeley High School alumna, said in an email that she had experienced sexual harassment while attending the high school. She described being yelled at and groped in the crowded school hallways between classes and said she felt like she just had to deal with it.

“Although I (was) upset to learn about the Instagram incident, I think this campaign is very positive,” Liebman said. “There is no excuse for sexual harassment, and those who participate need to be held accountable.”

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.