Students Pass on National Activism

The spirit of national activism is not quite catching on with students.

Sr. Cynthia March, Coordinator for the University Initiative for Compassionate and Mindful Living decided it was important for the university to be involved with the National Student Walk-out day and organized an on-campus walk-out event for National Student Walk-Out day March 14. That march and the March for Our Lives, March 24, came about because students decided  “enough is enough” after the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

March said the campus walk-out was well-attended with more than 120 students, staff and faculty participating.

While she received positive feedback on the event from students, staff and faculty after the event, students did not approach her about the walk-out prior to the day it happened, and they did not tell her whether they were going to pursue the issue further.

“I decided to organize the event when I saw the students in Florida ask for a walk out. Someone said to me, ‘There are so many shootings, why are we choosing this one to do something like this?’ I said, because they asked us to. They actually put that out to the country, and really it went beyond our country. Schools across the world have chosen to join,” said March.

The 30 minute event included four short readings on peace and non-violence, and then 17 students read the names and something about the 17 lives lost in the Parkland shooting. A bell tolled 17 times after the readings.

March said participation in the National Student Walk-Out day is in line with the teachings of the Sisters of Mercy, and it is a form of activism in itself.

“My idea was, that we as a Mercy sponsored school, should always have our critical concerns and values at heart. For us to stand with them and to say, enough is enough and let’s stand for reform in gun laws is consistent with our critical concern of nonviolence,” said March.

“Activism takes a lot of different forms, some people think you have to be in Washington all of the time, and that is a form of activism, but sometimes we can’t always do that. Something like this, we were still standing in solidarity with and validating the students whose voices have become very strong in society.”

No organization on campus provided direct transportation to the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., but Campus Ministry partnered with an outside group to provide a bus for students. The cost of the bus ticket was $45 and students had to drive to the bus themselves, but Campus Ministry supplemented half of the cost of tickets.

“[Being able to drive students to the bus] would have been difficult because we only have one van and usually on Saturdays the van is used. So I believe the students who went took their own cars to meet the bus, and we did have a student come in the day before trying to get a ride, so I gave him the names of some students who were going to the Scranton march. I don’t know if he went to Scranton or not,” said Christine Somers.

Somers said she believes only a handful of people from the university went to the march. Somers said the cost of bus tickets, having to drive to the bus themselves and poor communication may have been reasons for the scant attendance.

“One reason could have been the price, again they were charging $45 and we paid $20 or $25 of it and part of it could have just been lack of interest, but it is hard to gauge. The other thing is, how do we communicate these kinds of events to students? So for the most part we put things over the portal,” said Somers.

Somers does not think students are generally interested in events like marches and rallies.

“Unless they are really passionate about an issue and whether it be a pro-life issue such as abortion or gun control or caring for the earth, I don’t find many students who are activists in the sense that they are willing to go to rallies or marches on behave of a cause,” said Somers.

Annie Yanik, a sophomore speech-language pathology major, was very interested in going to the marches but could not due to a packed schedule. She thinks students often take action on current issues, even if it is not always through Campus Ministry organized events.

“I know a few students who either wanted to go to the March for our Lives or who went to a local march in Scranton. I think a fair amount of students do take an interest, I definitely think that they take actions on their own rather than just through Campus Ministry,” said Yanik.

Zachary Moody, a senior nursing major, went to the Scranton march, and would like to see issues like gun reform publicized on campus.

“College students need to be informed and see both sides of the argument before making bold statements. I was able to see people on both sides of the extreme regarding this issue. Myself, I believe a solution will be more moderate,” said Moody.

Moody said he doesn’t see many college students engaging in open discussions on national or global topics such as gun reform.

“I think like many places, people form their opinions and close their minds to the perspectives of others. I do not see many college students engaging in open conversations regarding topics of national/world significance such as this. People rather try to avoid them. I am guilty of that myself at times.  Campus Ministry does a good job at trying to increase awareness for issues or national/global significance, and I hope they continue to encourage college students to become involved,” said Moody.

Aside from Campus Ministry and the Mission Integration department, not many organizations appear to be involved with the current issue.

The Student Government Association was not involved with the marches, said Trevor George, senior physical therapy major and SGA president. The groups’s mission is to be the voice of the students, and he said he received little to no feedback on the issue.

“Student Government had not heard much on campus about interest in participating in the Walk Out or march in DC. While this is a very relevant topic in the news today, given that we had not heard much from students on being interested in this, we did not feel it was anything that we had to pursue,” said George.

Although students have not approached Student Government yet on the topic of gun violence or reform, officers are open to discussions and ideas and want to advocate for students whether on this issue or any other.