With reporting by Silas Rollins-Greene and photographs by Mia Palmiero
At 10:00 AM on March 21st U-32 students streamed out of the building and gathered in front of the flagpole. Students linked arms, some held hands. Others carried signs that read “NO MORE SILENCE END GUN VIOLENCE” and “We will be HEARD”.
After a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting in Parkland, several students took to the podium to speak out. Sophomore Sylvan Williams delivered a powerful poem entitled “Mama, Enough”. “I grew up on a planet where / terror rocked my cradle / and the strung together names of mass shooting victims, / became my lullaby.”
Most people will remember the U-32 Walkout as a picture of solidarity. The Times Argus described a large group of “somber but defiant” students and summarized the speeches of the student speakers. But there were signs that the crowd wasn’t so unified. One student carried a sign that read “I ♡ the NRA”. Then there were those who chose not to walk out. Over 100 students joined the protest, but many more stayed inside.
The Seeking Social Justice group – who organized the U-32 protest – and the The Women’s March Network – who organized the national protest – shared the same message about the walkout: “Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”
Still, there was confusion among students about what the walkout stood for. Some chose to stay inside because they were unclear.
“I just didn’t know what was going on,” said Senior Aliza Chamberlin-Habel. “So it wasn’t my place to walk out or stand on either side of the spectrum.”
Other students who chose not to leave class were clear on what the walkout stood for, and were making a statement of their own.
On Thursday, one of these students, Senior Marshall Collier, met with the Chronicle to share his perspective.
“I took a political test and it showed that I was dead center,” he said. “I am so pro-gun but against so many other conservative views.”
Collier supports gun education and gun safety, but believes that restrictions on owning firearms would inhibit his ability to protect his family.
He has his own opinions on how school shootings and other gun-related tragedies should be avoided. In addition to creating a stronger school community, Collier believes that security measures – such as metal detectors and a school resource officer – should be put in place.
“We should have any kind of checkpoint. Just like they do at any federal building, or a lot of banks,” he said. “I don’t see why we should protect money and federal employees more than we should protect kids.”
The walkout shed light on the divide in student opinion and raised the question: Does U-32 facilitate constructive dialogue about divisive issues?
When it comes to classroom discussion, Collier doesn’t feel like most students are open to hearing his opinions and beliefs.
“I think generally speaking… U-32 is really open,” Collier said. “But when it comes to things like gun control, it’s the complete opposite.”
“Every single time [we’ve talked about gun control in class] it has turned into the entire class versus me. Everyone is pestering me and not listening to what I am saying.”
This isn’t because Collier is the only pro-gun student. “There might be a couple of other kids in the class that share my opinion, but they aren’t going to say anything because it is the entire class against us.”
Sophomore Evan Hinchliffe, who supports stricter gun control measures, also sees an imbalance in class discussions. Although he says that debates in his Democratic Roots class have gone “pretty well,” he feels that “…pro-gun students can’t be bothered to argue with some of the more fired up pro-restriction people.”
“Sandy Hook should have been the beginning of the solution, but we are just getting started,” he said. “I’m already exhausted.”
Hinchliffe was referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that left twenty children and six adults dead. The tragedy inspired a push for gun control around the country, but resulted in little change.
Some students do believe that fair dialogues are happening at U-32.
“The debate that I observed was very respectful for the most part and everyone could speak their opinions without being shut down by the other side,” said Sophomore Gary Arleth. “To me, it was surprisingly peaceful and respectful.”
After the walkout, the Seeking Social Justice Group thanked “those that had conversations this week and began to seek a perspective other than their own. It’s important that we keep talking,” they wrote in the email.
“It’s important that we listen.”