Douglas Ciampi (‘19)-
As students did all around the nation, many at W&L walked out of class at 10:00AM on March 14th to “band together to demand change.”1 Democracy dies in times of inaction and the assembly on the Colonnade was a somber and respectful gathering of students, representing a good deal of intellectual diversity, which showed a passion shared by many at the college to mourn and remember the victims of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and to work towards reducing such future tragedies.
The walkout was relatively well-attended and very organized. Professors from all departments allowed their students to leave class and peaceably assemble, and several faculty and staff partook.
The professors’ reactions varied, with the majority simply allowing the students to come and go freely. At least one professor, however, required that all students in his class attend the following four class sessions five minutes early to make up for the lost instruction time, even though only two out of nearly twenty students walked out during that class period.
It appears the majority of faculty, however, continued on with instruction as they otherwise would have, limiting the impact of the walkout on those who chose to stay in class.
Amnesty International’s chapter on campus organized the event as they “felt a responsibility to promote human rights on campus”2 and Washington and Lee formally advertised it by sending out a total of three emails in fifty minutes (12:42, 13:15, and 13:32 on 3/13/2018)3 through its Student Activities department.
The walkout, no surprise following the amount of media coverage it has received, is part of a larger movement which received well over a million dollars from various celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Amal and George Clooney, in addition to hefty crowdfunding from a GoFundMe campaign. It was overseen by a Board of Directors that included George Kieffer, Jeri Rhodes, Aileen Adams, Nina Vinik, Vernetta Walker, and Melissa Scholz, a mixture of adults who hold various positions ranging from attorneys to the chair of the Board of Regents of the University of California.4
Public figures, some of whom are old enough to remember the Wall Street Crash of 1929, have seized upon the formally student-led movement to espouse long-held beliefs. One such individual, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, recently put out an op-ed in The New York Times, writing that students “should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment,”5 a stance likely held by many but espoused by few.
History has shown that students are often at the forefront of social movements, and they are largely driving this movement. With that said though, the majority of these past movements have been to expand civil rights – to give additional rights to the people.
Conversely, this historic trend has reversed, with students advocating for restrictions to free speech, and calling upon public universities to suppress those they disagree with. Likewise, a rising tide of students is advocating for additional restrictions, sometimes extensive, to the Second Amendment.
It is important to not let those advocating for the suppression of civil rights, who masquerade their actions under the rhetoric and imagery of the civil rights movements of the past, to usurp the freedom and liberties secured for us, by us, in our Constitution. Freedom is no doubt dangerous, but restricting who gets to exercise it is not the appropriate response to deal with those dangers.
1. Amnesty International - Washington and Lee Chapter, "March for Our Lives," distributed by email.
2. Lily Horsley, “Walkout planned in solidarity with victims of school gun violence,” The Ring-tum Phi, March 12, 2018, 1.
3. Kelsey Goodwin, "Message from Amnesty International," distributed by email.
4. Dana Liebelson and Nick Wang, “Behind Millions of Dollars Raised by Parkland students, an Adult Board of Directors,” The Huffington Post, March 19, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/march-for-our-lives-action-fund_us_5ab02dbbe4b0697dfe19a488.
5. John Paul Stevens, “John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment,” The New York Times, March 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/opinion/john-paul-stevens-repeal-second-amendment.html.