Keep Walking Out: The problems of ‘Walk up, Not out”

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FILE- This March 14, 2018 file photo shows Students sitting in silence as they rally in front of the White House in Washington. Students walked out of school to protest gun violence in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged in response to last month’s massacre of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

On March 14, many students participated in the National School Walkout as a demand for stricter gun control and legislation. At one of these schools in Virginia, a sixth-grade teacher, Jodie Katestos, hung up a sign for her classroom asking her students to “Walk up NOT out”. Through this slogan, she is asking her students to be more kind and inclusive to kids who are isolated in an effort to stop school shootings. However, through changing that one word she was also creating her own slogan against the walkouts and undermining the political activism and cries for help of the students participating in this movement.

While asking students to be nice to and include all their peers is a great sentiment, it is also extremely burdensome and dismissive. You are telling this group of children whose lives are in danger and who are screaming for change that the tragedy of a school shooting can be prevented through kindness alone. This slogan is, essentially, putting the blame on children for not recognizing that a child needed help and undermining their call for stricter gun laws. You are telling them that this is all their problem—that they must do better and are refusing to listen to or give their struggling peers help. Walk Up Not Out is a campaign of cowardice and willful ignorance of adults who do not wish to assume any responsibility in the attacks on these schools.

Nikolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter, was a troubled kid with a violent personality. Residents in his neighborhood recounted his dangerous behaviors, such as trying to kill animals, picking fights and vandalizing property. Classmates came forth about the kind of person he was, saying that he would have violent outbursts, threaten other classmates and only talk about knives and weapons. This is the person that the walk up movement is asking students to befriend and help. The students did not pick on Cruz; they feared him. They had a right to fear him, as he was dangerous and mentally unsound. The school system should have worked to help him when they saw his obvious aggressive and dangerous behavior. Yes, students should try to be kind to each other that will always be something to strive for. However in this case, the students cannot be blamed for the distance they kept from Cruz, the distance he created for himself. They should not be expected to put themselves in danger or to “fix” someone who is having real emotional and behavioral problems.

The sentiment of the Walk Up slogan is reminiscent of a video that spread after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School about recognizing the signs of a student planning a mass shooting. The seemingly innocuous video follows a student named Evan and his love story with a girl in school who he writes to on a desk in the library. At the end of the video when he finally finds her, a shooter suddenly enters the building. The video then goes back through the scenes and shows the signs of that student’s behavior that were hidden in the background of the video. While I understand the message of this video and the importance of knowing the signs of someone who may be at risk of committing a shooting, I found it similarly unfair to the students. It felt like the creators were shaming the student in the video for not noticing his peer that was displaying the behaviors of a shooter, but how could they really expect him to? Kids in high school should be able to have a relationship, friends, a normal life. They should not be the ones responsible for constantly keeping an eye out for a mass shooter.

Records show that in 2016, a neighbor warned the police that Cruz said in an Instagram post that he “planned to shoot up the school.” More reports from a counselor reported that he was “cutting himself” and “wished to purchase a gun” to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s deputy. Many reports, a total of at least 23, were made about Cruz and his alarming or suspicious behavior.

The children at these schools are already aware of the signs; they are already reporting them. It is not the fault of students in the school that there was a mass shooting. The students are just going about their lives and understandably not concerned with the threat of a shooting, as there should be no concern. The students that lived through this trauma and knew this person are calling for stricter gun laws. They know that a shooting is something that is out of their power to fix or prevent. The country has to begin listening to these young activists and their pleas. They are the ones with the firsthand knowledge and whose lives are being put in danger. Instead of putting the blame and the burden on students, the school system and legislators should be taking the responsibility for this problem and doing something about it. Students are the ones who should be walking out and we are the ones who should be taking notice.


Samantha Pierce is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samantha.pierce@uconn.edu.

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