By Nick Jordan
While it may not have happened on our campus, The Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice gave fourteen BSU students the opportunity to see activism in its purist form. Jaclyn Corin and David Hogg, two of the students who suffered the all-too-common horror of having their school taken hostage by an active shooter, spoke at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth as part of their Reverend Lawrence Lecture series. This one, entitled “Engaging Student Voices: A Focus on Voting, Gun Control and Anti-Violence”, focused on exactly what the title suggests. These BSU students were engulfed in an audience made up of a wide range of other students and instructors coming from colleges, high schools and even middle schools.
Maria Cabrera, a senior here on campus, decided to claim one of the fourteen available tickets after reflecting on her experience with the March for Our Lives demonstration she attended in Boston back in March. “It empowered me to look more into voicing my opinion in unfair situations,” she said. First year student Matt Santos praised the event as a “great opportunity”. “It’s not every day you have the chance to listen to prominent figures like David Hogg and Jaclyn Corin,” remarked Santos.
Until seven months ago, Hogg and Corin were as prominent as any teenager in high school is, not very. And for most people their age, that’s how they want it to be, blending in as much as possible. However, after seeing the loss of seventeen of their peers, the pair along with other students refused to let their school’s legacy be solely about tragedy. UMass Dartmouth was just one of their many stops as they share their experiences and encourage their audience members to stand up for what they believe in. Corin, who is currently a senior at the Parkland school, was the first to speak. She prefaced her speech by saying she still does not consider herself to be a public speaker. However, she proved herself to do quite well with connecting to her audience.
“I was always involved in student government; working with my community and organizing and fundraising for other people. That was always what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a nurse, I was always good at science and math. I was going to go down that path. That has obviously completely changed,” she told those in the crowd.
She then went on to detail the day that tragedy struck her school, on February 14th of this year.
“I was distributing carnations around my community and around my school, just to spread love and spread joy. Valentine’s Day is all about that. It’s about spreading compassion and just being with your friends and your loved ones. So I actually distributed carnations in the building that was shot up, Building 1200. I was fortunate enough to have finished distributing ten minutes before. I count my blessings every day that I was not in the hallway then.”
Ninety-six people are killed by gun violence every day in our country, she noted. And she never would have expected seventeen of those people to come from her school in a city labeled the safest in Florida for eight years in a row, and what she and her friends called “their Parkland bubble”. This was a quote that struck junior Carmira Tessier. “I wish I asked what the condition of their hometown was like currently. Jaclyn mentioned how they called it their “Parkland Bubble” because of how safe and secure it was. Since the shooting, I wondered how people treated their community.”
Tessier is referring to the time-restrained question and answer session that occurred after both Corin and Hogg spoke. And while she was unable to ask this question, first-year student Thomas Smith was one of the few who was able to ask a question of his own.
Posing the question to Corin, he asked “How do you use social media effectively to mobilize, to make people go out not only to vote but to call their senators, write letters, and go to protests rather than the common folly of “slacktivism”?” Calling this a “super important question”, she responded “The reason the March for Our Lives was because we did use social media to spread our message. Obviously, you just need to make sure you use rhetoric that actually attracts young people. I mean our account tries to put out memes and stuff because young people won’t pay attention to something that looks like an ad. That’s what a lot of organizations do and it’s not personable. So make sure that you’re actually putting out rhetoric that is attractive to people like you because you’re not going to reach everybody, but you want to reach a certain demographic.” She then praised the current meme on the internet where a “headline” discussing celebrity gossip redirects those who click on it to a website that helps people register to vote.
Corin started to get political the night following the tragedy. “I posted on social media that night. Not only did I post my prayers for my school, but I also said contact your local, state and federal representatives now because we cannot allow this to keep happening.”
The next morning, she found herself on the phone with one of Florida’s state senators and later that day began organizing a lobbying trip to Tallahassee, bringing many of her classmates with her. She wanted to make sure that they had a presence in our democracy and did not want to allow the media to cover their story as another mass shooting.
Not long after this, the March for our Lives was organized. What was expected to be 20 cities involved ended up being over 900 worldwide. The momentum did not stop there, clearly. The tour they are currently pursuing began in Chicago, a city infamous for its gun violence. “They actually host a peace march every single Friday during the summer because that is when gun deaths are the highest in that city. We marched the most “dangerous” streets in Chicago with those people in solidarity. The thing with March for Our Lives is it is not just about school shootings. It is not just about mass shootings. It is about every senseless gun death that happens in this country. Suicides too. Two thirds of gun deaths every single day are suicides.” From Chicago they went to Ferguson, Missouri where teenager Michael Brown was a victim of police brutality, along with states in the Midwest such as Kansas and Nebraska and southern states like Texas, all of which had people who differed with their views, or so they thought. While they did disagree on some things, they also found there was more in common amongst them than previously thought. Corin concluded her speech by encouraging those listening to attempt to be a changemaker with one person at a time, as those people will add up.
A more polarizing figure compared to Corin, David Hogg attempted to lay down the ground work for America’s future. But before doing so, he wanted to make clear what their mission was. They insisted they were not “pro-gun” or “anti-gun” but rather “anti-people dying, anti-people living in fear, living in communities constantly worrying about whether or not they are going to make it out of their school.” Not only that, but he also wanted to make clear he represents a minority of people affected by gun violence in this country, with the majority affecting young men of color of whom he hopes to be an ally through this movement. “We cannot accept a racist America. We cannot accept a society where your zip code determines the validity of your violence.” Though his points did come across and resonate with his audience, Hogg clearly stumbled with his delivery from time to time. This is by no means a criticism towards him. He is someone who survived an awful ordeal, just seven months prior. Any normal person would be shaken up by this. Nonetheless, he persevered and used his voice and platform to not only fight for his beliefs but the beliefs of those who do not share the same privileges that he does, privilege being “not about what you have had to live through, but what you have not had to live through” as a friend told him at a recent summit. He acknowledged, however, that despite whatever he says on stage ultimately it is up to each individual person to make desired change happen.
“It is up to you to stand up and say “No, I am an American. I am a patriot. I am a person who is not going to accept violence and injustice in my community. Any issue from clean water to climate change, to immigration to gun violence.”
Though his message was intended to be directed at young people like himself, his words resonated with those of older generations as well. Jill Beckwith, Director of Grants, Research and Evaluation at the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice, attended the event with her twelve-year-old son.
“Young people have always been at the forefront of social change. I love how this group of young people have taken their message and tactics from a local incident at their school to a widespread social movement. They are a wonderful example for all young people about what can happen with courage, knowledge and persistence to make a better world for us all,” she said.
Beckwith came to BSU in July 2017 with an activist background, working for a children’s policy and advocacy organization based in Rhode Island that provided data and research to various government sectors such as the Governor’s office, state agencies and the state legislature as well as to school districts and communities as a whole with a goal of helping to make laws and policies that worked for kids and their families. In this role, she found herself testifying at the State House many times as well as speaking at conferences. Her passion for advocacy has trickled into her personal life as well, where she has called her representatives, written letters and emails, donated to campaigns and attended various rallies and marches related to different issues.
The takeaway these students had from this event varied, though all seemed to be positive. Cali Bloem, a sophomore at BSU, felt afterwards that “even though there still will be a lot of people who feel as though their right to bear arms could be taken away, it is important to focus on saving lives. That should be the main priority.”
Hogg’s message seemed to have been one that stuck with first-year student Dakota Lopes who learned that making change “does not come without putting in effort and setting goals for yourself” and one cannot expect others to “pick up the slack for what you want to get done.” Junior Heather McKenna noted the differences in Corin and Hogg’s tones. “It was almost like Hogg was the nature aspect and Corin was the nurture aspect of the arguments they were presenting.” She also praised their handling of those who presented opposing views during the question and answer session.
Whether or not one agrees with the viewpoints being presented by the two, there is no denying the bravery they have presented from the moment they first reached the public eye. One can only hope that the next David Hogg and Jaclyn Corin come not out of tragedy, but out of inspiration and empowerment.
Use this link to see the event in full: https://www.umassd.edu/live/lawrence-lecture/
Nick Jordan is the Opinion Editor for The Comment