Two NVI Interns Reflect on Impact of Gun Violence and Call on Us to Do Better

By: Lea Hilliker and Paige Wright, Nonviolence International Interns

In the wake of the tragedy in Oxford, Michigan, many questions have been raised about gun violence, and school safety. On November 30th, 2021, at approximately 1pm one troubled 15 year old student opened fire on fellow students at Oxford High School. While the student was quickly detained, the impact of this event left many students, faculty, and staff traumatized, numerous injured, and forever took the lives of 4 students. Since this incident, schools are reporting a high number of copycat threats made, which have forced many to close out of precaution for their students. While many officials believe that this individual acted alone, this incident opens up a conversation about the responsibility of school administration in protecting students. Paige and I will discuss our personal experiences associated with preparing for active shooter situations, and address the general ideas associated with the topic of gun violence. Our passion for nonviolence, and activism at Nonviolence International propelled our dedication to recognize the events in the metro Detroit area. Growing up in Northern Michigan, and studying in the Oakland community, I want to acknowledge the pain and grief that my community faces, and recall the potential strategies to help students feel secure in an academic environment. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of an active school shooting In the United States, and it will not be the last until we see change in gun control. Since 1970, the United States has had 1,316 school shootings and this number is increasing. Students across the United States and world are being trained to protect themselves in the classroom. Below we discuss both of our experiences in active shooter training and how preparation for a shooting benefits and harms students.

Lea: “During my first year at Oakland University, my school gained national recognition for suggesting the use of hockey pucks in an active shooter situation. The idea sparked from a comment made by the campus Police Chief, who suggested that the hockey pucks could be used in emergency situations. While the technique appeared immature, and insufficient, the overall movement to give hockey pucks to college students built a stronger push to support campus security. The distribution and sale of the hockey pucks were linked to a fundraising campaign that paid for classroom locks, and other safety measures. I think the success of this campaign highlighted the efforts made by faculty and students to protect their fellow Grizzlies, but also illustrated the lack of accountability of the administration in allocating funds towards this project. 

Similarly, I know that this tragedy has deeply impacted the lives of many families in the area. Many of my classmates grew up in the area, or have family members that work, or go to school in Oxford. In the past few weeks since, Oakland University, various high schools, and other institutions have offered mental health services to help those in grief, and various community leaders have hosted vigils to support the families of those victims and survivors. The Oxford tragedy deeply transformed the Oakland community, and united the metro Detroit area. I am hopeful that this unity continues, and leads to significant changes in legislation to address problems like gun pollution and male violence.” 

Paige: “In my last two years of high school, my high school looked at the dangers of rising school shootings and the unfortunate bomb threats we had received. My administrators decided that students should undergo ALICE training for an active shooter response. ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. The main elements to ALICE training were strong communication on the location of a potential shooter, acting on the defensive without fighting (building barricades, creating distractions, etc.), and leaving when the area was safe.

During an ALICE drill, we were told ahead of time that we would be doing the drill on a certain date but the time was unknown to resemble the unexpected behavior of a shooter. Later an individual masking as an active shooter would enter the school with a blow horn. We then began following ALICE as receptionists alerted the school, students near the shooter locked their doors and hid, and students far from the shooter exited and walked to a close by school. After the training, the student body would gather in the other school as our principal told us how many students “died” and how we did with the overall training. At the end of this, we would return to our regular school day.

While going through ALICE training prepared me for an active shooter, it also stripped away my idea that school was a safe place to learn. While I never consciously considered if my school was unsafe, my teachers telling us potential classroom items that could be our weapons and our escape routes shattered my assumed perception of safety. It is a harsh reality students must face to protect themselves.”

Lea: “Moreover, I know that my high school often held lockdown drills to prepare students for active shooter situations. Unfortunately, students did not take these drills seriously, and I felt relatively unprepared in the instance of a lockdown. While I grew up in a relatively small community in Northern Michigan, I wished that more schools adopted trainings, and extensive drills that encourage students to recognize the risk of active shooter situations, to take responsibility for holding school administration accountable, and to communicate potential threats in the area. Based on my experiences, I felt underprepared, and ill-informed on how to manage active shooter situations. Sadly, these strategies to better prepare and inform students do not solve the larger societal issues at hand. We need drastic change, and political activism to curate deep, and lasting change."

How do students respond to school shootings? While we are speaking from the perspective of a middle class, suburbians, outside of mandatory school trainings, we have seen students hold discussions on potential solutions, participate in walkouts, advocate for their lives to their school administration, honor the lives of victims, and so much more. Students have taken nonviolent means to end violent action. Their bravery in advocacy has brought significant attention to the prevalence of gun violence in schools but students are still waiting on legislation that will create formidable change. Instead of asking students to prepare for the worst, our leaders must pass legislation and take action that favors students and helps prevent active shootings in schools.

 

March for Our Lives (April, 2018)

Paige: “I remember my school participated in a National Walkout Day where students across America left their schools, holding signs that called for an end to gun violence and the need for legislators, school administrators, and communities to act. When walking those couple of miles, we were not just advocating for our safety but also, we were fighting for our lives and our need to be safe in schools. 

The lack of action from our leaders is an action against our lives. Until we see change, I know the students after me will not give up. We will walk-out of our schools, speak to our administrators, and keep a conversation going on our safety until we see change. Until our lives are valued and protected.”

In acknowledging the events in Oxford, and the significant threat that gun violence poses to our youth, Nonviolence International (NVI) seeks to inspire our communities, and loved ones to take action, and support the protests against gun violence. We hope that through discussing the events in Oxford, we can work to provide our resources and knowledge on this topic. 

Here is what you can do to help:

  1. Donate to the victims and survivors of the Oakland school shooting, organizations that advocate for gun control like the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, and nonviolence promoters like NVI or our partners.
  2. Support research into gun violence.
  3. Sign petitions to give our students more protection.
  4. If you are in the United States, message your representatives calling for more gun control.
  5. Join movements such as the youth-led March for Lives to promote change.

We are calling for action beyond searching school backpacks and red flag laws. We need radical reform to reverse the US Supreme Court’s new interpretation of the 2nd amendment, efforts to ban semi and automatic weapons, and more laws to protect children from gun use. Gun violence is yet another symptom of the epidemic of violence in our communities. NVI calls on all people everywhere to rise up against the forces of dehumanization and destruction all around us. We are stronger together, please join us in protecting our students.

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