I was a high school student at the time of the Columbine shooting, and I vividly recall the feelings of shock and sadness I experienced in the days following the tragedy. Given the powerlessness I felt as a teenager in the aftermath of Columbine, I am in awe of the strength, maturity, and determination exhibited by students across the country in the weeks following the Parkland shooting. The school walkouts on Wednesday were an enormous success by any measure. Nearly 1 million students exercised their freedom of speech during more than 3,000 registered demonstrations across the country. The attention-grabbing student-led action called to mind the protests led by Diane Nash, John Lewis, Barbara Johns and so many others during the Civil Rights Movement. But these actions are distinct, and their differences underscore a key truth: #NeverAgain is a powerful and inspiring movement; but it is a privileged movement.
The risks that students took to participate in Wednesday’s walkouts were not equal. Some schools promised to discipline student protesters, while others vowed support. Hundreds of colleges and universities made clear that they would not penalize applicants for disciplinary action stemming from involvement in the protest. But that promise did not protect students of color who risked more than just entry to an elite institution of higher learning. These students had to weigh walking out of class against the all-too-familiar threat of long-term exclusion from school, arrest, and even bodily harm.
Fear of disproportionate discipline — or worse — for participating in peaceful protests is neither unwarranted nor unprecedented. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, Black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension and 2.2 times more likely to be arrested in school than their white counterparts. It stands to reason that the disciplinary reaction to the student protest movement will reflect the day-to-day racial disparities in school discipline. This reality can effectively silence the very students most likely to be affected by gun violence.
Read the full op-ed here.