By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
On the morning of March 14, a month after the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, more than 40 Sewanee students gathered in the University Quad in support of students across the country, who protested inaction on gun violence by walking out of their classes at 10 a.m. that day.
The Leadership Coalition, as part of #SpeakUpSewanee, led by seniors Eliana Perozo, Brandon Iracks-Edelin, Claire Brickson, Sydney Peterson, Cotie San, and freshman Lala Hilizah, sent out an email a day prior to the walkout encouraging students to participate. The email stated that “we, as a Sewanee community, have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with fellow students who have lost lives and demand reform on a local and national level.”
Many students wore orange in support of the cause. The color orange is a choice that dates back to 2013, when 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago in a case of mistaken identity. Her friends wore orange to call for gun reform. Their organization Wear Orange explained the color choice by saying, “Orange is what hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others from harm. Orange is a bright, bold color that demands to be seen. Orange expresses our collective hope as a nation — a hope for a future free from gun violence.”
After gathering on the University Quad, students were eventually joined by professors and staff members. Iracks-Edelin, Perozo, Brickson, and Hilizah began by thanking the crowd for coming before Perozo delivered an overview of the cause and why they had gathered.
Perozo spoke about the 7,000 pairs of shoes that recently appeared on the U.S. Capitol Lawn to represent the number of children who had been killed as a result of gun violence. She then urged everyone to consider what the shooting meant for each of them while they observed a few moments of silence to honor the victims.
Afterwards, the Coalition asked the crowd to separate into groups of five to share thoughts and feelings about gun violence. Psychology professor John Coffey expressed the need for a dialogue at Sewanee about gun violence and the psychological effects that accompany it, while Director of Admissions Ryan Cassell recalled the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the year he first interviewed for a job at Sewanee.
“Every time it happens, it just keeps getting closer,” he said.
The walkout concluded with a prayer led by one of the seminarians from the School of Theology.
“I hope people took away a sense of solidarity in regards to gun control,” said Iracks-Edelin. “It was an opportunity for students, staff, administration, faculty, and community members to come together to raise awareness, and reflect about what we can do moving forward.”
“My favourite thing about this event was being able to talk with a variety of other people about gun violence and hear different views and opinions,” said Hannah Wood (C’21). “I’m hoping this event will cause more discussions like that.”