Photo: Nancy Lewin
Members of the #BHSStopHarassing group with actress Patricia Arquette (third from right). The students are wearing anti-harassment shirts they designed and distributed in the community. Photo: Nancy Lewin

By Francesca Paris

The efforts of Berkeley High School’s student-led anti-sexual harassment group, BHS Stop Harassing, were recognized this week by Equal Rights Advocates who presented them their 2015 Champion of Justice award at a luncheon gala in San Francisco Thursday.

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) is a San Francisco-based non-profit that works to increase economic and educational opportunities for women. The award is given annually to “a person or group of people who are building toward a more equitable future for women and girls,” according to its website.

Hollywood actress Patricia Arquette attended the ceremony and posed for a photograph with the Berkeley High students. Arquette, who starred in the critically acclaimed movie Boyhood, is a known supporter of gender equality. Accepting an award at the Academy Awards this year, she said: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Berkeley High School Stop Harassment celebrates having received a Champion of Justice award at the Equal Rights Advocates’ luncheon gala. Left to right: top row: Bryn Lewin-Ofell (’15), Liana Thomason (’15), Alecia Harger (’18), Kenyon Fonte (’18). Bottom row: Rachel Siskin-Lavine (’16), Uma Nagarajan-Swenson (’18), Emily Levenson (’18), Maya Siskin-Lavine (’16). Photo: Peggy Scott

“The luncheon was amazing,” said Liana Thomason, a graduating senior who was part of the BHS Stop Harassing group’s seven-member steering committee. “It was great to talk about where we got started and look back on the year. We’ve come a really long way.”

In a statement published on the ERA website, Executive Director Noreen Farrel said ERA was “grateful and moved by the ability of the young men and women in BHS Stop Harassing to aspire to and realize change, and usher in the future of the women’s rights movement.”

Students launched BHS Stop Harassing last fall, partly as a response to an incident of sexual harassment involving Berkeley High students: a number of male students posted photos of female students with misogynistic, sexual captions on “slut accounts” they had created for the women on Instagram. The group’s goal is to educate peers and change Berkeley High’s sexual harassment policy. Berkeleyside reported on the incident and the group’s inception in a Nov. 21 story.

Thomason said that much of the group’s success has been about “helping the young people, especially young women, of Berkeley High find their voices when it comes to issues that concern them,” as well as opening a dialogue about issues of sexual harassment between the students and the administration.

About half of the group’s founders are graduating this year, but Thomason is optimistic about the future of the group. She said that younger female and male students at Berkeley High have approached the group consistently throughout the year, asking how to get involved. “[The group] is going to remain strong, and it’s going to remain a presence on campus,” she said. “I’m sure it will change, but I know that our younger leaders are more than ready to step up and lead it into a new era.”

School Board adopts interim sexual harassment policy (04.10.15)
Feds launch civil rights investigation into Berkeley School District’s response to sexual harassment claims (02.10.15)
Op-ed: Sexual harassment at Berkeley High must stop (11.17.14)
Students target sexual harassment at Berkeley High (09.24.14)

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