Student Activism on Gun Control
Issue   |   Tue, 02/27/2018 - 18:55

Last week, high schoolers across the country took the issue of gun control into their own hands. They held protests and school walkouts, pressured CNN to hold a town hall with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and compelled several sponsors to drop their ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA). The support the students have received is heartening to see and a welcome change to the general apathy characteristic of gun violence tragedies. Of course, the support is not unanimous, and many high school officials threatened to discipline students if they held protests during school.

Several prestigious colleges and universities responded to this with statements saying they would not consider any disciplinary actions that came from peaceful protests in their admissions process. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University are only a few of the schools that released statements. Amherst joined its peer institutions this past Sunday, releasing a statement on its Twitter account. The statement claims that “the Office of Admission, will, as always consider the unique circumstances of any reported disciplinary action related to civic engagement” and further noted that peaceful demonstrations have “never been a reason for a student to be denied admission or to have an offer be rescinded.”

These student protests are crucial to making gun reform a possibility. Student activism has historically been at the forefront of social movements, and not for random reasons, as students hold a unique position in society. For one, high school students are mostly unable to vote, so direct action is the best way for their concerns to be heard. Also, students are significantly less vulnerable to economic threats. If a student’s parent wants to participate in a protest, direct threats (like an employer threatening to fire them) or implicit ones (like missing days from work) could deter them from participating. Students, largely insulated from these types of repercussions, are more capable of protesting and bringing about change through direct, participatory action. Most important, however, school shootings put student lives in danger, and it is important for them to express their desires for change and their visions of the future.

Another reason student activism is important, especially in regards to the issue of gun violence, is that teachers are legally not allowed to go on strike in most states. Striking is perhaps the most powerful bargaining tool that workers have to ensure that their demands are heard. With suggestions to arm teachers coming from several politicians, including the man serving in the nation’s highest office, student activism is a necessary replacement to voice the concerns of people who cannot go out and picket themselves. In issues where students and teachers stand mostly united, student protest can represent the interests of the educators who have been effectively silenced by law.

Now, why is it important for students that college’s release statements quelling concerns over college admission considerations regarding school discipline? Well, considering the overwhelming amount of data that shows how earning a degree significantly improves people’s potential income, it is clear that students would be risking a lot if a peaceful protest gets them suspended and either results in a revoked admission or flat-out denial. In short: students also have economic incentives that are being threatened and deterring their activism.

The College’s statement has reaffirmed its commitment to social change, freedom of expression and community impact through students. While the statement came fashionably late to the party, it certainly goes a long way. The statement can be read as tacit approval of gun reform, but if Amherst were to speak out directly on the issue it would show that the college is truly dedicated to its purported goals. Amherst College can and should do more by leading its peer institutions in taking a position on gun reform. Nothing but the “h” is silent, as the saying goes. It is time to live up to this refrain.

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