BY LILY REAVIS ’21
Students from thousands of high schools across the nation walked out of class on March 14 to protest gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, FL.
Jodie Katsetos, a sixth-grade teacher, had an interesting response. According to the Chicago Tribune, she posted a tweet that read, “What can YOU do? #WalkUp to the kid who sits alone and ask him to join your group. #WalkUp to the kid who never has a voluntary partner and offer to be hers. #WalkUp to your teachers and thank them! #WalkUp to someone and just be nice!” The tweet encouraged students to “walk up” to members of their community — teachers and peers — and “just be nice.”
The message caught on and got #WalkUpNotOut trending online. This movement places an unreasonable and dangerous level of responsibility on young people. It displaces the nation’s attention from reforming gun control laws to blaming the actions of terrorists onto those they attack. America’s youth should not be held accountable for a massacre they survived.
According to the Washington Post, over 150,000 students have experienced a campus shooting since Columbine in 1999. These students did not experience life-changing trauma because they weren’t nice enough to their classmates. Being nicer to peers, while great, will never solve the issue of gun violence on campuses, and suggesting that it will harshly reduces the severity of such crimes in the eyes of Americans.
Not only is this movement unhelpful to the issue of gun violence, but it does nothing to actually address the valid mental health concerns in regard to both the victims and the shooter. Anyone who believes that gun violence can be solved by simply sitting next to a new person at lunch should not have the authority to comment on these protests.
“Walking up” could also be dangerous, because people who commit mass shootings are dangerous. Urging children to spend one-on-one time with these individuals could push them into an unsafe situation.
By participating in walkouts across the country, high school students are creating change and garnering much-needed attention. The #WalkUp movement promotes social behavior that may be nice, but is completely uncorrelated to gun violence. Walkouts have been adopted by people who are too young to vote. “Walking up” robs them of this agency.
Although bullying is a real issue on campuses, it does not make school shootings an inevitable American experience. What allows a troubled individual to massacre dozens of children is the amazing availability of — -and easy access to — high-power assault weapons.
Placing the blame of massacres on children is victim-blaming. Claiming that students can prevent shootings by being nicer to their peers implies that they deserve to die at their schools.
As adults and lawmakers in this country, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable. Instead, the #WalkUpNotOut movement denies the true cause of mass shootings and sends a severely apathetic message to student survivors: their peers died because they didn’t invite the shooter on playdates. Those of us who are old enough to make our voices heard need to take action instead of shrugging the blame onto the next innocent party.