‘I have never felt hope after one of these…
...BUT THIS IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT.’
Since the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, conversations in the aftermath of the 17 deaths continue. Whether it’s campus security, mental health or political reform — students are making a difference.
And 19 years later, she still sees Columbine in the headlines. On the front page, it reads, “Generation Columbine knows no other world” and is paired with pictures of the two shooters Fernand knew since the seventh grade.
Every time she reads the news of another school shooting in the country — 18 this year and 291 since 2013 — it’s “devastating.”
But something about the aftermath of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 — a tragedy that stole the lives of 17 students — feels different for Fernand.
“This is something different, something fresh,” she said. “It’s something new and surprising — and inspiring that they can be so brave. I think that it’s really making a difference — and I hope that everybody will keep going. I hope that something will really happen this time, because I’ve never felt that before.”
Something different: The movement
For today’s generation of high school students, the all-too-common news of mass shootings seems to be followed by an all-too-common cycle of horror and shock, condolences and prayers and hashtags and media coverage, slowly subsiding until the next shooting occurs.
But ever since the shooting Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School, students around the country are calling to break that cycle.
After the events in Parkland, Fl., Stoneman Douglas students like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Cameron Kasky have regularly spoken on national television.
They’ve pressured companies to withdraw funding for the National Rifle Association. Sparked gun reform concessions from traditionally unwavering politicians. Funded a multi-million dollar march for gun reform across the country March 24. And on March 2, Hogg and Kasky appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher.
The movement gained momentum following a nationwide surge of support for victims — a surge of support that caught the attention of gun reform advocates and activists around the world.
As a former worker for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Matt Tranchin ‘02 knew the power of a social movement. In close proximity to the organizers of the Women’s March and March for Science, Tranchin knew the power of mobilization. And when hearing the powerful voices of the Parkland survivors, he knew he had to do something.
So, using his experience, Tranchin helped organize the Dallas March for Our Lives, a demonstration assembling March 24 downtown. The event is entirely student-led, with Tranchin and other experienced advocates providing logistical support.
“This is really a student-led march here in Dallas,” he said. “Looking at what’s happening right now, I think it’s clear that what you’re seeing is not just the next generation of gun control activists; you’re seeing the next generation of activists, period.”
Tranchin, having been a freshman in high school when the Columbine High School massacre happened, has had to live with the terrifying reality of mass shootings for nearly 20 years.
“I remember getting emotional every time it happened,” Tranchin said. “But I remember feeling less sad. Just emotionally distancing myself of just kind of like an acceptance like, ‘Well, this is our country.’”
So why is this shooting different? How will this march actually change things? And what will this mean for the future of student activism?
“You have this one moment in time where everyone’s rallying around this issue,” Tranchin said. “Leaders are stepping up. I mean you’re seeing them on the media. You’re also seeing them, I imagine, on campuses.”
And the most important aspect of maintaining the momentum of this movement and translating it into actual, tangible, legislative change: being what Tranchin calls a “community organizer.”
“Being a community organizer is being a community leader,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to build the grassroots and infrastructure with like minded students, like minded individuals who are committed to this cause that will not just vote themselves, but will bring in their families, their friends, their neighbors, their church members, everyone they know and everyone they don’t know and try to persuade them.”
On campus: St. Mark’s
On the afternoon of Feb. 14, Headmaster David Dini watched as the situation in Parkland turned from bad, to a “horrific tragedy.”
Through that night, he spent time thinking, considering how the school might or should respond.
And the next morning it was clear — he wanted to communicate with the community. He needed to touch base with how people were feeling.
In a letter sent home electronically Feb. 15 to parents, faculty, staff and trustees, Dini recognized that many people were wrestling with what the shootings meant for the community — and how the community should respond.
“There’s such a range of emotions,” Dini said. “People are frustrated, angry, hurt, concerned or alarmed… I thought about it a lot overnight and obviously it distressed a lot of other people. I came in the next morning and told Mr. Ashton that I really want to communicate with our community.”
One of the first things mentioned in the letter is security. The whole security philosophy of the school is one based on familiarity and long-term commitment. And the shooting in Parkland just brought that conversation back to the forefront of the community’s mind.
“It’s something that we’ve thought a lot about here for a long time and give a lot of consideration and a lot of priority to safety on campus,” Dini said. “We’re really fortunate in that we have the resources to do that and that we’ve made a commitment to do that. Deliberately over time there’s been a steady escalation of that commitment.”
Part of Dini’s commitment to campus security is establishing a team that builds a relationship with the community, with members that “know the campus, know the culture, know the environment, know the buildings, know the people, and people know them.”
“When you’re here, whether it’s a game or school every day, you see the same officers here all the time,” Dini said. “They know you and you know them. That’s a big part of our commitment we’ve had for a long time. Familiarity is really important. Continuity is really important because recognition and identifying things that are out of the ordinary matters.”
Campus security falls on the shoulders of every member of the community. In Dini’s opinion, it needs to be “automatic” and “part of the culture.” So every student, teacher and security officer needs to shoulder the responsibility of reporting dangerous or suspicious activity.
“See something, say something and say something, do something,” Dini said. “If you see something, tell somebody about it. If you say something, make sure you do something about it.
“See something, say something”: Mental Health
“The shooter was mentally ill.”
In the aftermath of the majority of school shootings, the “mentally ill” label is plastered on newscasts and television reports nationwide, bringing the larger issue of mental health into global conversations.
To Director of Counseling Barbara Van Drie, this label is accurate for Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz, along with previous mass shooters, but merits deeper exploration into its origins, and into what the term “mentally ill” actually entails.
“The question is always, what led to this?” Van Drie said. “Lots of times there are many factors that contribute to the situation. Apparently, he was suffering from bereavement or depression, and is depression a mental illness? Yes. But saying that he is mentally ill sounds stigmatizing rather than saying, ‘This student has gone through a lot.’ I’m not going to diagnose him, but there were obvious signs that he was in distress.”
When it comes to St. Mark’s, Van Drie sees the school community as a beneficial environment to students experiencing personal issues — and when it comes to “prevention of harm to self or others,” she believes students should report troubling signs to the counseling office as early as possible.
“See something, say something,” Van Drie said. “When you see someone in distress, say something. You see someone hurting, say something. You see a change in behavior, say something, because those are red flags. When you see someone not coping well, those are the indicators that something is going on. If you’re concerned about somebody, say it now. Better to get skills when you are 16 years old versus when you’re 36 years old.”
On the individual level, the counseling office works closely with teachers, coaches and advisors to make sure the boys who need help will receive it. Van Drie views this practice as the best way to address the problems boys here may experience, anywhere on the spectrum.
“It’s so much better to intervene now when we’re all around him than when he’s at college,” Van Drie said. “We’d rather assist him while his family’s still around him, while we are still around him. We’re just going to care for him — we’re not going to stigmatize him. It’s about caring, not stigmatizing.”
Holistically, Van Drie feels the school community can best prevent violence in our students through large-scale cooperation — she believes every person in the community has a vital role.
“When a friend, a classmate, a brother sees something going on, let us know,” Van Drie said. “This way, we can check in with him and get him help — the earlier we can intervene with someone and help them the better. I don’t know each and every boy, but I absolutely believe that I have to count on all the adults in the community and the students in the community to be those eyes and ears. That is our system.”
When looking back, Columbine survivor Fernand is optimistic.
She sees teen leaders at podiums, speaking their truths to the masses.
She hears conversations arising on the future of gun control in our society.
She feels hope for the world — a world resolute enough to bounce back from recent tragedies and advance toward a greater tomorrow.
“We need people to remind everybody that this isn’t right,” Fernand said. “I think it’s really getting a lot of notice from adults because it is more surprising than just the same old anti-gun lobbyist speaking up again. This is something different, something fresh and new and surprising and inspiring that they can be so brave. I don’t think that this revolution of trying harder to fight for gun control would’ve happened if these students hadn’t been brave enough to speak how they were feeling.”