Rally Day Requires Re–evaluation to Continue

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Our observations of student behaviors, activities, and of the general atmosphere of the 2012 Rally Week have highlighted the need for a significant cultural shift at Berkeley High School. It seems that the evolution of Rally Day might require our school to re–evaluate the goals of the event, as it has strayed quite far from its intended purpose. In fact, serious concerns arise about our school culture in general.

First and foremost, we are gravely concerned about the issue of safety. Rally Day and the culture that accompanies it presents a “lawsuit waiting to happen” scenario. The mob of 600 sophomores knocking down the barricade on the field is the most acute example of a safety hazard. In such a scenario, can we really say we are ensuring the safety of our students? Considering the atmosphere of the whole day, with kids (many of whom have been drinking) crowding the hall screaming at each other, it’s only a matter of time before a student gets physically hurt at these “celebrations.” We do not have enough safety officers or administrative staff to handle the sheer number of intoxicated students on Rally Day.

Teachers then need to step in. But what could be positive about an event that forces school staff to act as prison guards, with students compelled to evade them? As teacher leaders, we feel a responsibility to this community to raise the issue before something tragic happens — someone gets hurt, or even worse, there’s a fatality. Just as we teachers are being asked to think about our teaching practices and course objectives, we ask:
What is the objective of the Rally, and does it achieve its intended goals?

Contributing to this culture, many teachers are also concerned about the various states of undress on Rally Day and what condoning it communicates, including placing a “don’t get caught” band–aid on the issue by implementing a demerit system for number of times caught exposing oneself.

Teachers from all learning communities at BHS attempt to institute their own “dress codes” on this day, with some even supplying clothing so their students can cover up. Of course, individual students comply, but then remove the extra clothing once they leave the classroom. Certainly, this is a tricky issue, especially considering the possibility of a double standard for girls — the law requires that people should be able to wear what they want as long as they are covering their bodies. Therefore, young adults should be able to wear what they want without being harassed or objectified, but that is not reality.

The bottom line is that warnings about drinking and nudity come when students sign the rally contract, making the demerit system redundant — students should not have to be warned again after they have already broken a rule. This also raises a question we have even heard students ask: why is there a dress code only on one day of the year?

Furthermore, dance teachers at BHS are continually faced with having to facilitate real conversations with kids about the need to censor misogyny, expressed in choreography as well as in song lyrics. Still, each year at the Rally, there is at least one song accompanied by movement that promotes violence against women. It seems that an adult, such as the activities director, should be informed about the music and choreography of these dances before they are performed in front of thousands. This is the fifth year that a girl was slapped, punched or had her hair pulled as part of a student dance. Since this seems to be condoned, it is not shocking that a teacher witnessed at least one female student who was shoved and threatened by a male student (incidentally wearing a BBQ Club jersey) during the rally.

Something must be done to improve the culture of our school to ensure that young men and women have more respect for themselves and each other. If Spirit Week and Rally Day are to continue, how can we encourage more school spirit (as opposed to class spirit)? How can we remedy the serious loss of instructional time during the week? How can we realistically say we are ensuring the physical and emotional health of our students? School leaders need to shoulder this responsibility rather than look the other way, as our school culture regarding these issues has been allowed to devolve for far too long.

Respectfully,
Matt Carton and Ben Sanoff, Academic Choice
Allen Boltz and Laurie Rodney, Academy of Medicine and Public Service
Shannon Erby and Mat Glaser, Arts and Humanities Academy
Matt Meyer and Nick Pleskac, Berkeley International High School
Leah Katz and Hasmig Minassian, Communication Arts and Sciences
Glenn Wolkenfeld and Jana Luft, Green Academy
Heidi Ramirez–Weber, Newcomers Department
Andrea Sanguine, Visual and Performing Arts Department
Tamara Friedman and Susi Lopez, World Language Department
Eileen Jacobs and Ben Neumann, Special Education Department
Susannah Bell and Dave Stevens, Coordinators, BHS Professional Development
Amy Burke and Michael Weitz, Math Department.