Berkeley High School Students Create Movement to Stop Sexual Harassment
Liana (front) pictured with other members of BHS Stop Harassing. Photo credit: Richard Thomason
With college students all over the country petitioning for change in school policy, sexual harassment on campus has become a hot-button issue. But many fail to realize that the problem starts before college. Last month, we debated issues of dress code right here at CPS. Meanwhile, Berkeley High School was facing some similar problems related to whether girls were “asking” for sexual harassment by wearing certain clothing. BHS senior Liana Thomason and others decided that something needed to be done to change the attitudes and opinions about sexual harassment at their school. Soon after, BHS Stop Harassing was born. I interviewed Thomason about her experience as founder of the movement:
What is BHS Stop Harassing and why is it important?
BHS Stop Harassing is a movement I started, with the help of my classmates, to combat a culture that condones sexual harassment at Berkeley High. This problem is bigger than just us—that’s why our work is so important.
What inspired you to start the movement?
The inspiration to start BHS Stop Harassing came when all of the student body was invited to a welcome assembly at the beginning of this school year where an administrator linked how girls dress to how much they will be harassed—implying that it was our job to make sure that sexual harassment doesn’t happen. This struck many girls as sexist and wrong. Many people talked to this administrator after his speech, which was repeated 6 times throughout the day. One girl even stood up in the assembly and told the administrator that his statement was sexist. When the administration failed to issue an apology or correct the damage the speech had done, I knew that the students needed a voice to advocate for them against the administration. My mother, myself, our friend Rebecca, an educator and writer on sexual violence, and her 14-year-old daughter came together and formed BHS Stop Harassing.
What has the process of starting the movement been like?
I began BHS Stop Harassing by inviting five girls who were interested to a meeting with Rebecca, her daughter Emily, my mom, and I. The next meeting, around ten people showed up and the numbers kept growing to around 50 people attending meetings and planning events. There has been so much positive feedback from the community. It seems clear to everyone that we need this movement.
What challenges have you faced?
Most challenges we have faced are from the administration itself. However, it is not a hostile response we have received, so much as a lack of response. We are now working with the principal and teachers to develop a workshop for all students about sexual harassment. BHS Stop Harassing appreciates this, and our final goal is a semester or year-long class that all students must take at BHS.
What have been your greatest accomplishments?
Our biggest accomplishment so far has been a successful “teach-in,” where we set up several tables outside of Berkeley High, passed out flyers with information about topics ranging from how to file a complaint at school to federally protected rights under Title IX. We passed out 650 free t-shirts, which said, “Stop blaming my body for your harassment. Thanks.” and “This is what an ally looks like.” We collected over 700 signatures in a petition to the district to change its sexual harassment policy. We staged a “Black-Out Day” where all students wore their shirts. Another success BHS Stop Harassing celebrated recently was our presentation of our petition to the Berkeley School Board.
What can we do to help?
To help, you can open up a dialogue with your own school about its sexual harassment policies. You can fight for education for young people, the most important part of stopping sexual harassment. Lastly, you can contribute to the BHS Stop Harassing GoFundMe at www.gofundme/BHSstopharassing.
Photo credit: Julia Retzlaff
“Teach-in” hosted at Berkeley High School. Photo credit: John Becker