At 10:00 am on Wednesday, March 14, an estimated 150 to 200 students, staff, and faculty streamed out of Emerson buildings and into the snow-packed Boston Common to protest gun violence in the United States.
The Emersonians joined students, from elementary school to fellow college students in a march to the Massachusetts State House on National School Walkout Day, an event organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March. The event was organized following the deadly February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students, staff, and teachers were killed by a former student armed with an assault rifle.
“I’m marching for everyone who can’t because of the absurd gun violence that we have in America,” said musical theater major Maura Leblanc ’21. “I hope our legislators will actually start to listen to our voices and realize that we are the future, and that if they don’t listen, then we’re going to vote them out.”
In a letter to the community on Tuesday night, President Lee Pelton supported the students who chose to join the rally, and urged faculty to allow space in their Wednesday classes “so students might discuss and reflect on these important issues, even briefly, as well as to be forever mindful of the many young people, teachers and others who have lost their lives to gun violence…”
Pelton, who participated in National School Walkout Day, has become a leader in higher education around addressing gun violence. In 2013, following the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Pelton formed the College Presidents’ Gun Violence Resource Center, and launched a series of panel discussions around the issues to help mobilize education leaders around the issue.
“While certain states have enacted gun control legislation since our call to action, Congress has not passed a single significant gun safety law or regulation,” Pelton said in his letter.
At approximately 2,600 gun-related fatalities per year, firearms are the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 19, behind only car accidents, and gun deaths of young people cost the country an estimated $158 billion annually, Pelton wrote citing, respectively, Princeton University and University of Colorado reports.
“It’s time for our lawmakers to cast aside their ideological differences and take a stand to save our young people because their lives are in jeopardy,” Pelton wrote.
Luke Richert ’21, a media arts production major taking part in the rally, said while he doesn’t believe that Emerson is a likely target for a shooter, he recognizes that a tragedy like the one in Parkland is “always a possibility.”
“I hope we are able to get some … limits on what kind of guns people can have,” Richert said. “Specifically, banning assault weapons seems like a good way to go because I don’t feel like that’s something private citizens need to have.”
He added that he’s in favor of more background checks for gun purchases and restrictions on owning weapons for people who have exhibited dangerous behavior in the past.
Design/technology major Jolisa Osborn-Polakoff ’21 was blunt about why she was marching on Wednesday.
“I feel like [gun control] is something that really needs to be worked on,” Osborn-Polakoff said, “because it’s a big bunch of bull—- at this point, and students shouldn’t be losing their lives because people aren’t doing anything about it.
“[If] other people start gathering something actually, maybe, hopefully, will get done,” she said.