In response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting, high school students across the country have been conducting walkouts. As a result, several universities including U. Va., Virginia Tech, William & Mary, VCU and University of Richmond have made official statements supporting the high school seniors if they decide to participate.
JMU’s official statement, according to the Director of Communications and University Spokesman Bill Wyatt, was first released by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The statement reads, “Our admissions officers are willing to consider any special circumstances that may exist for each applicant … Each student has a unique experience and it is the job of our admissions officer to understand that experience and how it has shaped their ability to be successful at JMU.”
The Student Government Association made a statement in response to the one given by Bill Wyatt. On Saturday, SGA posted its statement on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, stating that, “We want to make a strong and clear statement that we would be proud to welcome all applicants, both current and future, who engage in such walkouts as our peers.” Each post received just over 100 likes from students.
“We welcome that civic engagement,” Jewel Hurt, junior political science and public policy administration double major and 2017-18 SGA president, said. “We think that it brings value to the community when people aren’t afraid to speak out about what they care about.”
Before the statement was released, Brooke Price, senior justice studies major and the speaker of the student senate, posted a poll on the private SGA Facebook page asking for her peers’ opinions on JMU’s statement. Due to the responses she received, SGA thought it was appropriate to create its own statement.
“It’s important to me that if we say something on behalf of student government, that it reflects the opinion of most of the students,” Price said. “It got a lot of positive feedback and the majority agreed that we should say something a little extra.”
In response to gun violence — but specifically the Parkland shooting — the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group created National School Walkout. It was held Wednesday, exactly one month after the Parkland shooting to remember those who were lost and protest Congress’ stance on gun violence. The walkout was geared specifically toward high schools and colleges across the country to give American teenagers an opportunity for their voices to be heard. Just three miles down the road from JMU, Harrisonburg High School participated in the movement.
Due to inclement weather, HHS didn’t have its walkout outside. Instead, it created a unity chain throughout the halls. Two rows of participants stood on either side of the hallways and faced each other. There was a moment of silence and the names of those who died from the Parkland shooting, as well as quotes from survivors, were read aloud.
“I believe that students should have a voice, and the only way for them to have a positive, productive voice that can be heard is to show them how to do that,” Cynthia Prieto, Harrisonburg High School principal, said. “If you don’t know when you are young and energetic and curious what’s going on around you and what effect you can have on it, then why would you start that once you leave high school and college?”
The high school students spread the word through social media. SGA also took advantage of social media to get a message out, but this time, it took an unconventional approach.
According to Price, typically when SGA posts on social media, it’s in conjunction with the university and how it stands on a particular topic. But in this case, it decided to take an alternative method to deliver its message.
“We wanted to take a different approach, which was that we wanted to speak as students,” Price said. “We want the university to see it, but the real purpose was that we were talking to the applicants from one student to another.”
When students first started walking out of class in protest, some individuals showed concerns about participation resulting in disciplinary action. For high school seniors, many were unsure what to do. However at HHS, Prieto created a positive environment for her students.
“I made it very clear that this is not about punishing kids for speaking out,” Prieto said. “If you do it correctly, there shouldn’t be a price. Ours is not a protest about guns. Ours is about unity and us as a school and about solidarity with another high school.”
While there’s no guarantee participation will interfere with the admission process at some colleges, hundreds of schools participated in the walkout. For JMU, regular-decision applicants will be notified of their admission status in early April. SGA hopes the post will reach those who are awaiting their decision.
“We can’t control how the university decides to deal with this matter,” Hurt said. “But we can speak for the students and the student government association and say, ‘Look, this is something that we appreciate, that students around the country are taking part in and this is something we welcome for peers.’”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.