“We are too scared to go to school”: UCR students and faculty discuss March For Our Lives

“The movement focuses on how student’s lives are affected in particular so we feel obligated to act now,” stated Leila Shiblak, a second-year Sustainability Studies major at UCR. On Saturday, March 24, students led a demonstration of around 800,000 in Washington D.C., entitled March For Our Lives, in response to the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which killed 17 people. The shooting re-sparked the debate about gun control in the United States, and how gun violence affects students.

Survivors of the Parkland shooting launched and mobilized the #NeverAgain Movement and the March For Our Lives in an effort to ensure an end to gun violence in the United States. The students are specifically working toward the following: Universal and comprehensive background checks, bringing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) into the 21st century with a digitized and searchable database, acquiring funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America, a high-capacity magazine ban and a nationwide assault weapons ban. According to their website, “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students of all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities across the country. We will no longer sit and wait for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass shootings.”

In an interview with The Highlander, Shiblak noted that she believes the March For Our Lives is, “Giving students a way to channel their anger and frustration using effective grassroots organizing methods which in turn leads to a better understanding of how political systems work locally.” While she is unaware of any particular events or protests occurring at UCR in relation the the March For Our Lives, Shiblak finds it “interesting to think about how gun control laws are one of the top conversations we are having in our school setting.”

Motivated by the countless mass shootings occurring in the United States, specifically the shooting that occurred at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Susan Straight, a distinguished professor of creative writing at UCR, began writing a short story titled “The Princess of Valencia” in the fall of 2015. This fictional short story explores the mourning of a mother who lost her daughter and only child in a school shooting. In an interview with The Highlander, Straight stated, “(This story) really resounds with present day, especially with the March For Our Lives,” said Straight, “I wrote this story because it illustrates what it feels like to be terrified all the time.” Through her short story, Straight wants people to imagine how scary it is for students who are a part of a generation of numerous mass shootings.

Straight sees the March For Our Lives as the first time young people really stood up and said “We are too scared to go to school.” Straight stated that many students at UCR have told her that they are afraid of attending class, especially large lectures. She believes that our response to these tragedies needs to result in more action, finding that, as a nation, people witness a mass shooting, say “thoughts and prayers” and move on. “The March For Our Lives and the fear students feel, such as the fear some students at UCR feel, illustrate how people easily move on from mass shootings.” Now, Straight finds that students are demanding change and that the government pass legislation that they believe will keep people safe.

In an interview with The Highlander, Augustine Kposowa, a professor of sociology at UCR, wrote that the March For Our Lives movement, “shows that if students truly study the great issues of the day, discuss how to bring about change and lay out some strategy, they can have some impact, at the very least in raising awareness.”

Kposowa added, “UC Riverside students ought to join other students all over the U.S. and indeed across the globe to fight against any form of injustice, regardless of the target and irrespective of the region of the world that is immediately affected.” He specifically referred to violence and oppression against displaced persons in Burma, citizens of Syria being killed by the Assad government, the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, as pressing issues he’d like to see more widely acknowledged. Kposowa fears that UCR students could become too narrowly focused on local issues that they forget about contributing to raising awareness of global problems.

In response to the debate over whether demonstrations such as the March For Our Lives enact actual change, Kposowa wrote, “The students from Florida have reached out to other groups, such as black communities that have long been at the receiving end of gun violence …  By reaching out … there is real likelihood that March for Our Lives will succeed.” Kposowa believes that by reaching out to black communities and movements such as Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives activists may succeed in voting out politicians from office who support the National Rifle Association.

Kposowa believes that if March For Our Lives activists manage to visit every congressional district, call for representatives to address town halls and influence public opinion about issues, voters could remove legislators from office that, according to Kposowa, “have for years been in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and the Gun Manufacturers Association.”

Straight believes that the March For Our Lives says a lot about student engagement in politics and finds it “incredible” that the demonstration was led predominantly by students. Straight imagines what the nation would be like if there were to be a mass shooting every single day, “almost in a dystopian point of view,” she stated. This dystopian outlook inspired Straight to write “The Princess of Valencia.” She asserted that the march, “beyond just gun legislation, is a way for students to not only get involved but, demand something that they feel is absolutely necessary.”

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