Berkeley High Students Trying to Change School's Sexual Harassment Policy

A group of Berkeley High students formed BHS Stop Harassing to raise awareness and change the school's policies on sexual harassment. Founder Liana Thomason is in the front row. (Courtesy of Liana Thomason)

A group of students at Berkeley High is working to change the school's sexual harassment policy. Senior Liana Thomason founded BHS Stop Harassing after she felt an administrator, in a schoolwide assembly, blamed sexual harassment on the way girls dressed.

"That struck me and a lot of girls and boys and teachers as really backward and sexist, and we realized that was sort of a systemic flaw at Berkeley High," she says.

Thomason says the school needs a better reporting mechanism and staff needs more training on how to handle harassment.

"You have girls getting catcalled in the hallway with security guards standing right in front of them and they don't say anything," she says. "And it creates a harmful environment."

The group has raised more than $6,600 so far for an awareness campaign. They've spent $4,000 of that money to buy T-shirts and pins, which they passed out to students for free along with information about harassment and cyberbullying.

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Thomason says the goal was "to really raise awareness among the student population, a lot of whom don't really know that much is wrong because it's been so normalized into our school culture to put up with daily sexual and verbal harassment, and also to raise awareness to the administration that the students really want something to change."

The shirts say "stop blaming my body for your harassment" and "this is what an ally looks like." Thomason says they're trying to raise a total of $8,000 to buy 500 more shirts to pass out. She also says they're going to start an online store where non-students can buy the shirts, because they've gotten so much postive feedback from the community.

In December, the group handed over a petition, seeking to overhaul the school's sexual harassment policy, to the district's Board of Eductation. It had more than 750 signatures.

Thomason says the group is working with the school's interim principal, Kristin Glenchur, to develop a lesson on sexual harassment to be taught this spring.

"She actually came to me and said that she wanted to create a short lesson for all students to receive just to put down a baseline knowledge about sexual harassment, that it will not be tolerated and what it is," Thomason says. "And I thought it was a good idea, so some other BHS Stop Harassing members and I are working with her on it."

The group's ultimate goal is to create a full course to educate students and staff about harassment. Thomason says the lesson is a step in the right direction, but "we want more."

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Berkeley High administrators did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

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