Finding a Voice Offers a Path for Improving School Safety

Apr 18, 2018

It’s been about two months since the shooting in Parkland. As a student, I’ve been asked how I feel by well-meaning administrators and teachers, family friends, strangers and most often, my friends, as they try to hide how afraid they are now. In the lunchroom, we talk about bulletproof windows, our safety at marches, and lockdown procedure. I tried to find something, anything, to say to comfort my friends.  But I didn’t believe any reassurances myself. I tried to write something for Raise Your Voice. But I was too afraid. I couldn’t process what had happened. Whatever I said felt like it didn’t do justice to the gravity of 17 people, and a generation impacted. 

I had the privilege of being able to avoid thinking about what happened. But that’s exactly what it is, a privilege. Not everyone has it. There are kids who were at Parkland or any one of the other school shootings in our country. There are kids who have to fear gun violence in their communities or from the police, a status disproportionately affected by socioeconomic standing and racial tensions. 

We know how it feels to huddle on the floor and fight against wondering what’s outside. School shootings are real for us, in a way they weren’t for our parents or grandparents when they were in school. This is a shared experience of our generation. My school had an unscheduled lockdown very recently following the shooting. We’ve had drills and mistakes before. This was a false alarm. But it was different. Everyone in that room was completely silent. I can’t forget crouching there in the dark, and knowing this was how it felt. This is how it starts. 

As a parent - or even educator - you owe children an honest conversation about how they feel, if they’re old enough. You owe them as much support as can be given in the face of your and everyone else’s lack of immediate control over this kind of threat. You owe them empathy. 

You also owe them guidance. A lot of the narrative following Parkland, especially in schools, is that students need to be nicer to bullied peers, so maybe they won’t do these types of things. That’s entirely true; no one deserves to feel afraid or unwelcome at school. But to say that these shootings are the result of bullying is an assumption, and indirectly blaming the victims. It makes children responsible for the mental health and actions of people who do terrible things. While children should learn empathy, you can’t scare it into kids by implying they might be responsible for a shooting. Though it might be harder, you have to teach empathy. 

As a student, the only things these last two months have shown me is that change won’t just happen, even when it’s pressed. People will still be able to buy assault rifles, and they’ll still find their way into schools.  Nikolas Cruz receives fan mail. The Parkland students face ridicule from major media sources. Silence certainly won't help that. 

Fear is everywhere. In the face of it all, I think a lot of students feel the same way that I did after the shooting, struck silent, but if there’s ever a time to find your voice, it’s now. Because there will be another school shooting if we don’t do something. 

Josephine Smith is a student at Gorham High School and a contributing writer for Raise Your Voice.