In response to the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., student protests for increased gun control have occurred across the nation. Students at Penn and at nearby universities, too, have mobilized in the past four weeks to make their voices heard as they prepare for the national March for Our Lives on March 24.
At Penn, over 150 students took to Locust Walk to protest gun violence on Feb. 22 by standing in solidarity and holding signs that represented the 317 mass shootings that had taken place since Jan. 1, 2017. On March 14, the day of the National School Walkout to Protest Gun Violence, over 30 Penn Law students and 150 employees of the Wistar Institute participated in walkouts.
Outside of the Penn bubble, other Philadelphia universities have contributed to the movement.
In support of the "#Enough" National School Walkout to Protest Gun Violence on March 14, students at Drexel University, Temple University, and Villanova University staged walkouts of their own. Many of these students continue to participate in the movement.
Drexel senior Adam Raifsnider organized the Drexel University Walkout to Protest Gun Violence and explained that the motivation to mobilize stems from a desire to combat inaction and desensitization to mass shootings.
“We see this never-ending cycle of shootings, leading to hollow mantras of ‘thoughts and prayers,’ ultimately leading to silence over and over again, and [students] are fed up,” Raifsnider said. “Now is a critical time in our nation’s history, as we are truly beginning to feel exactly how powerful an organized group of like-minded young people can be."
Raifsnider stressed that the #Enough movement is more than just leaving class to “sing Kumbaya so the legislators pass the laws we want.” Rather, it is intended to be a “signal and rallying cry” that exhibits the sheer volume of support behind this cause to ensure that the shooting in Parkland will be the last of its kind.
Despite the symbolic nature of these protests, Raifsnider said that the gun control movement at Drexel has a list of specific policy goals participants would like to see enacted. These goals include higher taxation on firearms and ammunition, increased age restrictions, cyclically-renewed licensure, mental health-oriented background checks, and a ban on all assault weaponry.
Students at Villanova said that their campus has also begun to talk about previously-taboo topics through the "Get Woke Nova" campaign. The campaign aspires to shed a more comprehensive light on the injustices faced by students and raise issues normally not spoken about.
“[Shootings happen] so frequently, and I think people need to be aware of it and realize there is something we can do to try to change it," Villanova sophomore Gabriela Ramirez, who attended the Villanova protest, said.
Ramirez explained that although she believes "Get Woke Nova" and the walkout are “steps in the right direction,” Villanova as a whole is rather apolitical and she feels the window for student activism on campus may be closing.
At Temple, more than 30 students participated in an organized walkout on March 14.
Temple junior Karina Roman said that she did not attend the first walkout and initially did not know how to get involved. After witnessing the activism of high schoolers in response to the recent tragedy, she decided to help organize another walkout on April 20.
“My two organizing members and I decided to begin organizing this event in advance, so we could make sure we had the time to plan every detail,” Roman said. “This event is really important to all of us, we want it to be perfect.”
As Philadelphia's own March for Our Lives occurs this weekend, leaders such as Raifsnider are optimistic about the possibility for change.
"There’s obviously no shortage of passion for gun control reform within this community and with the power of modern technology, organizing was incredibly easy," Raifsnider said. “This world is now being crafted and shaped by fiery, excited, and relentlessly hopeful young people before our eyes."