Off-Campus Hazing Escalates at Berkeley High

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday September 22, 2008 - 09:21:00 PM

It’s called the case of the “Freshman Fridays” at Berkeley High: Seniors tossing eggs at ninth-graders when they leave school or sports practice, sometimes hitting them in the face. 

Old timers refer to it as an “unfortunate tradition,” but most victims and their parents call it assault. 

The sudden rise in off-campus hazing this fall prompted Berkeley High School Principal Jim Slemp to send an e-mail to the community on Sept. 15 advising students to remain alert when they leave campus or simply stay put at school during lunch. 

“The number of incidents of older students hazing freshmen by throwing raw eggs at them on Fridays seems to be on the increase off of our campus,” Slemp’s message, sent out on the district’s e-tree, said. “Parents should be aware that hazing is not tolerated on the Berkeley High campus. Unfortunately, we do not have control over what happens off campus ... I have addressed the student body at Berkeley High on this issue. Our security officers are alert to the problem.” 

School officials, Slemp’s e-mail said, had heard reports of students “being egged” on Shattuck and Solano avenues and Marin Circle. 

“We also have no influence over students from other schools—such as those from Albany and Piedmont high schools who were recently caught by the Berkeley Police throwing eggs at our students,” Slemp wrote. 

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Andrew Frankel told the Planet he was not aware of hazing incidents off campus, involving either Berkeley High students or those from different schools. 

“This is the first I have heard of it,” he said. “The sergeant in charge of youth services hadn’t heard of it either. One of our patrol officers might have taken the students back to the school and maybe that’s why we never heard anything. We don’t have a policy for incidents like this. We deal with them on a case by case basis. But we will definitely investigate it if it involves physical abuse.” 

Piedmont High School Principal Randall Booker said he did not know that his students were involved in hazing incidents directed at Berkeley High students. 

“The first time I heard about it was when someone alerted me to Slemp’s e-mail,” he told the Planet on Friday. “I asked him to forward me names of the students who were caught, but I haven’t got anything so far. I did get a call from Berkeley High’s Dean of Students Alejandro Ramos but he wasn’t able to provide any names either.” 

Booker said he had not heard of any hazing incidents at Piedmont High since he took over as principal six years ago. 

“It’s a small school and people know each other,” he said, explaining that the high school had a population of 800. 

Calls to Slemp, Ramos and district superintendent Bill Huyett for comment were not returned. 

Mark Van Krieken, president of the Berkeley High Parent Teacher and Student Association, said the problem worsened last fall, and in some cases included victims that were beyond freshman year. 

“Last year around this time there was a huge increase,” he said. “Kids were going after the freshmen on Fridays. Eleventh-graders were going after the 10th-graders. This year it seems to have jumped up again. At east one 10th-grader has been attacked multiple times when he comes out of cross country team practices. There are kids hanging outside to get at him.” 

In his e-mail, Slemp directed students and parents to call the campus intervention officer or the Berkeley Police Department to report future incidents. 

Multiple postings on the Berkeley Parents Network complained about the incidents and called on school authorities to take action against it. 

“My daughter is a new freshman at BHS, and she reports that ‘how to avoid eggs’ is the major topic of conversation,” wrote “Disappointed in BHS.” 

“What a waste of time and energy,” the parent wrote. “Sounds to me like unnecessary hazing, adding to the general stress caused by unresponsive counselors and incorrect schedules. Also, an egg was thrown at me once on a Berkeley street (I’m an adult) and it really hurt. Berkeley High administrators should crack down.” 

Another parent wrote that while her son occasionally indulged in private “food-throwing hijinks” with his friends at high school, “organized humiliation targeting specific people” was bullying. 

“Look at the lessons these senior bullies are teaching,” she wrote. “That it’s OK to target specific people for ridicule and exclusion, it’s OK to act like a thug if you are in a superior position, and if a superior targets you, you have to take it.” 

Berkeley Board of Education chair John Selawsky said he had witnessed students getting egged. 

“It was just last week,” he just. “The egg ended up on a car. But it’s not just this year or last year, It’s been going on for years. But it’s hardly harmless. On some level it can be viewed as an assault. Students suffer because of this.” 

The mother of a Berkeley High freshman who wanted to remain anonymous because she feared retaliation said someone threw a raw egg at her son while he was getting off the AC transit Bus 65 on Grizzly Peak. She said that she was frustrated that just because the incident happened on a public bus the district says its hands are tied and can’t respond. 

“There was egg all over his pants,” she said. “My son just said it was another example of inhumanity. My husband and I think it’s assault and bullying.”