By Amyre Brandom-Skinner
Across the country, students walked out of their classrooms in response to the national debate on gun violence. And in New Orleans, crowds of students left their classrooms at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14th to call for new laws for gun control. University students stood in solidarity with K-through-12 students who were victims of recent school shootings. At Xavier University, led by the Ordinary People Student Group, students marched from their classes to the center of campus to support calls to address gun violence.
“No justice, no peace,” said De’ahn Huddleston, a Xavier freshman. “The yells from students participating in the walkout woke me up,” she said.
Xavier students said they joined together to represent the university’s mission statement of “promoting a more just and humane society.”
“The real way of thinking as a Xavierite means knowing that we are a community. We have a responsibility to one another,” said C. Reynold Verret, Xavier’s president. “By speaking and mobilizing, students have shown the need for the government to take care of the needs of the people,” he said.
The campus organizers told the crowd that protesting was a way to bring about action. “In order to affect change in all our communities, we must stand up and speak out,” said Bralen Johnson, a Xavier student.
Most importantly, the walkout sought to remember the victims of mass shootings. Organizers recalled the tragedy that took place on Feb. 14th in Parkland, Fla. and the 17 lives lost on this day. Many students reflected on the potentially unsafe environments that their family members are sent to every day by attending school.
“Today we stand in solidarity to say that enough is enough,” said Indigo Gill, a Xavier student. “We need stricter gun laws that look out for the safety of everyone and do not unjustly target any one group of individuals,” she said.
Organizers said it was not enough to remain silent about gun violence. Students were encouraged to engage in more topics like this one, as the first step to bring change to an issue that particularly affects the Black community.
“There is a war going on right now for our lives,” said Ahmed Oyale Arasah, a Xavier student. “Don’t be discouraged, don’t be afraid because of that truth, but understand your position in that war, sharpen your tools and begin to activate,” he said.
Faculty members who participated in the march reminded students that education was an important tool when fighting for change. They urged students to put their degrees to use in ways that can improve the community.
“An education is not simply the discipline or the degree, an education has to do something,” said Robin Vander, an Associate Professor for English and African-American and Diaspora Studies. “It not only gets you a good job and a way to give back, but an education arms an individual with the critical thinking skills and the know how to not only transform one person’s life… take it to the community and let it spread,” she said.
The national walkout was seen in several states as a rallying call for Congress to act on the existing gun laws and in particular to stand up to the influence of organizations like the National Rifle Association. Students who participated said this is just the first step to activism that brings about reforms.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” said Jalisa Orellana, a Xavier student. “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” she said.
Tylan Nash contributed to this report.