I remember the moment I learned tragedy was accepted when it involved guns. I was 10. School had finished for the day, and parents rushed out of their cars to grab their children. Walking to my after-school program, I heard faint voices of parents saying, “Are you okay?” and “I’m coming to get you.” These urgent whispers circled around me as I walked to Cherryhurst Community Center. They followed me home, where my mother explained that a man had gone to Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed children my brother and cousin’s age, and that it has happened before and could happen again. These were just children, like me, going about their lives, and in an instant, it was all over.
I have to admit, there are still moments where, even as I transition into adult life, I am transported back to that moment at 10; all of my fear collects like the too-heavy backpack I was carrying, and I hear my mother’s voice at the other end of a telephone line. We are being raised in a generation of paranoia — one that in some ways has accepted that at any moment we could be caught in the fray of gun violence. We fear for our futures and, in many ways, have already accepted that nothing will change, that nothing can change because our elected officials refuse to take action.
I worry every day. I pray we don’t have to keep having these conversations. I pray that no parents have to worry about their children dying and that students get to focus on schoolwork instead of worrying about whether going to school will be the difference between life and death. I pray that we don’t have to keep living in paranoia. But, I must also remind myself that prayers demand action. In the wake of Columbine, Newtown, Aurora and Parkland, it is easy for us to become numb to our situations – numb to a president and Republican party that lie to get ahead, numb to the powerful corporate interests that hand out agenda-fueled campaign contributions and numb to our own collective responsibility in doing something about it. This must stop. We must change. America, you’re killing your children.
There are too many stories of death and destruction. Too many people are forced to accept the status quo. The reality is that, on average, 13,000 people die every year from gun violence, that every day 96 Americans die through gun violence, and we have the highest rate of gun violence among developed countries. These statistics should be frightening. The sad thing at this political moment is that they really aren’t. We pick up the debate every time tragedy strikes and then forget again.
We have normalized lockdown drills and school shootings. We get news updates on our phones and hope it’s not about our family, our city or someone we know. We cling to our guns and our convictions instead of working in a nonpartisan manner to ensure that people in the United States are not afraid of dying from random chance as they go about their daily lives. We have accepted fear, and we have accepted complacency.
As colleges mobilize and organize around better gun regulations, we at the College have remained relatively quiet. As other colleges organize vigils and hold massive protests, we have stayed content in our understanding that we are “on the same page.” This line of thinking has to stop. As students, it’s our job to think critically and work thoughtfully to be caretakers of our world. Instead, in order to not make waves, we often agree with each other without taking substantive action.
In the wake of tragedy, students in Parkland and the country — and for many years, black and brown students in Ferguson, Baltimore and other inner-city communities of color — have rallied together to protest what is a national crisis. Their determination to make life better, to fight so that other students would never lose a friend, a classmate, a teacher or a teammate is valiant. Sitting in privilege and power, we at Williams must join them.
So, Williams, now is your time to make a choice: we can be the campus that fights for these students, who works to ensure students feel safe going into school, or we can be the one to sit in the aloofness of our “Purple Bubble.” Sitting in the comfort of our own power and privilege, it is our responsibility to care. It is our responsibility to do what is right — and make sure no kid has to go to school, a movie theater or church in fear.
Dominic Madera ’21 is from Houston, Texas. He intends to major in comparative literature and political science.