Gabby Brandt: Changemaker


By Savy Behr and Emma Pearson

Gabrielle Brandt takes change into her own hands.

 “If we use our voice to actually speak to administration about the changes we want to see, if we just stay determined about the things we want to see, [these changes] can actually happen,” Brandt said. 

The 17-year-old Tamalpais High School senior realized early on that the Tamalpais Unified School District (TUHSD), which includes her own school, was experiencing a sexual assault and harassment crisis. This crisis is ongoing, with distinct recent events, including “The List” and the anonymous @metooattam Instagram account among others. 

The list” was a poster plastered by students on the Wood Hall girls’ bathroom wall containing a list of names of alleged sexual assaulters at Tam. This event and TUHSD administration’s response inspired Brandt to take action beyond a passive approach. She said she was outraged by administration’s response. Brandt joined the Sexual Assault Task Force in November, although she’d been taking action such as reaching out about administration meetings prior to officially joining the task force.

The task force was created in October 2020, when Brandt was a sophomore. The group disbanded for a while, labeled as a hiatus by Principal J.C. Farr Ed.D. 

According to Yvonne Milham, Tam High’s Wellness Coordinator, the group disbanded because attendance became sporadic and there were disagreements over whether the task force could indeed be an official task force without requiring mandatory police reports. 

In her time on the task force, Brandt and the task force succeeded in convincing the district to have put Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Hot Line on the backs of student identification cards, which will soon become fourth hotline on the card. 

The task force plans to grow next year, with things like more detailed informational posters and, eventually, creating a new, comprehensive, effective consent curriculum for each grade of high school.  

While Brandt’s community respects her political work, she’s known by her friends for much more than her persistent attitude and passion. Brandt is known for being funny, kind, bold, intelligent, and perceptive. She has a tattoo of wildflowers, reflecting her own free-spirit. 

Brandt can be seen in fashionable and slightly eccentric outfits around campus; one of her frequent looks being an all-white, snow-fairy-inspired skirt, blouse, and furry boots. While her work with the task force is serious, draining, and comes with high stakes, Brandt isn’t stoic, she’s passionate.

Brandt’s fellow students and friends recognize her passion. 

​​”She presented to our entire class a whole lesson on our rights versus the cops’ rights when it comes to traffic stops and home searches and stuff like that. It was so cool to see almost everyone in our class learn something. The whole class was super engaged, asked her tons of questions that she was able to answer,” Nina Miloslavich, Tam senior and friend of Brandt said. “She knew what people needed to know.” 

Brandt has and continues to work hard toward improving the sexual assault culture, curriculum, and response within the school because, as she puts it, “Clearly, nobody was caring enough. And I didn’t want to leave the school in the state that it was in.” 

Not many stand by Brandt when the time comes for the real work. The sexual assault task force has four members including Brandt.  

“It’s enough people where we can have multiple perspectives … we can actually like, get somewhere and like get stuff done and really get down to it. So it’s kind of bittersweet in that way. But I do wish more people just worked with us in general.” 

While a four-person task force will never have too many cooks in the kitchen, Brandt expressed that outside student engagement is lacking. 

Brandt’s Social and Environmental Justice Academy (SEJA) class teachers inspire her to make change and mentor her in her work. Tessa Altshuler, also known as Ms. A, is Brandts’ current english teacher within the SEJA program, and was the first person to really show Brandt she was capable of creating change, Brandt said. 

“All I did was provide a space and facilitate a conversation,” Altschuler said. “Gabby ran with it. It had to be Gabby, because Gabby is a Changemaker. And Gabby has the passion and the fire and the intensity within her that she doesn’t need to be prompted. She doesn’t need parameters. She sees something that isn’t working and wants to change it.” 

 SEJA focuses on empowering students and giving them the tools to succeed in social justice. 

“Gabby brought to my attention that [the list] hadn’t been brought up in classrooms after it happened, asking me, ‘Why aren’t teachers addressing it?’ And we were able to have a really beautiful and intense conversation in our class about it. And I think that from that, she really thought about, ‘Okay, what’s happening within our classrooms? How can I be an agent of change? And how can I build this into the curriculum at Tam?’” Altshuler said. 

Brandt worries about the task force group’s future after the three seniors, herself included, graduate. 

“They’re willing to stick by the same rules but change different things [within the bounds of current rules]. Why are we working within a system that’s clearly not working? I hope that more people get involved so that it can continue to be that way, even after we’ve graduated.”

Open, vulnerable discussions can work to refine ideas and bring awareness and understanding to people, and in Brandt’s experience, may be the key to creating change, she said. 

Members of the district administration share a different perspective. According to Farr and Dean of Student Services Nathan Bernstein, a productive dialogue would’ve been impossible. 

“I think to have a genuine discussion about the list in that setting would not have been productive. That needs to be a dialogue and that day turned into a lecture.” 

 Brandt disagrees, her own experiences tell her students are indeed capable of dialogue. 

Discussions in her SEJA class on the same topic have been productive and inspiring for Brandt. 

“We had [a discussion] after the list came out, we had a discussion after the meeting that Mr. Farr hosted about the CVS incident. They’ve been very constructive,” she said. “I actually think that the discussion we had about the list was one of our most enlightening ones. That’s what sparked my interest-seeing so many people who cared about this issue, who had such good ideas, and who weren’t going to administration with them.” 

While not everyone’s views are identical to hers, she got enough out of it to vouch for this method as a solution to the problem. 

“I think that is one of the most important forms of learning that we kind of skip over, like we don’t take advantage of enough: just actually sitting in a circle, and letting people wait until they’re comfortable to speak. And then once one person speaks, like more people started speaking and then you have a constructive discussion, like that’s very overlooked and like, not taken advantage of.”

 It may be a risk, but Brandt believes that these risks are worth taking. She points to her ability to sit through uncomfortable conversations as a benefit in her discussions with administration. She said she sees a tendency of administration and our greater community to avoid discussions of painful topics. 

“Unless you’re persistent in calling it out, I found out pretty much immediately from talking to [district administration] is that they didn’t really have any plans to do anything about it.”

Brandt does believe it takes a village. However, when it comes to administrative change, the lack of a village shouldn’t hold people back. 

“You, as an individual, have the ability to affect the world around you,” Brandt said. “Students have a lot more power in their voice than we think we do.”