Cultivating social activism in high schools is necessary

Credit: Tracy Le/Visual Editor Credit: Tracy Le/Visual Editor
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Sacred Heart Greenwich, a private Catholic school in Greenwich, CT, informed 16-year old student Kate Murray on Feb. 6 that if she did not remove her Planned Parenthood sticker from her laptop, she would be forced to leave the school either immediately or at the end of her academic year. Hundreds of alumnae of the high school spoke out, calling or writing to their alma mater to discuss their thoughts on the issue and voicing their disappointment. In addition to voicing their outrage on the situation, some even called out the institution on Sacred Heart’s policies and overall environment through social media platforms. But no matter the response that these young women had towards it, I would bet that nearly all the alumnae, especially younger ones like myself, were all shocked and a little shaken.

Murray’s possible expulsion not only caught the attention of my town’s local paper, but also the attention of The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and even prominent British newspapers such as The Daily Mail and The Independent. And as I watched my alma mater get thrust in an unwanted and unneeded spotlight for 15 minutes of fame last week, I started to think more about my Sacred Heart experience, a time where people were already heavily pushed to excel in school and speak up towards injustice either within Sacred Heart or among the outside world. We should have pushed, or been pushed, more.

This is not the first time my high school has gotten into a larger fuss over, at their core, very small and petty situations. However, these were mostly dealt with internally and swiftly, becoming a gust in school culture and gossip for a short period of time. Murray’s possible expulsion — “an extreme reaction to a very small sticker” — was a hurricane, and Sacred Heart was unprepared. Murray’s “very small sticker” came up in discussion around the town of Greenwich, and Sacred Heart’s initial press responses felt too mechanical.

Sacred Heart finally came to the conclusion to allow Murray to attend Sacred Heart Greenwich with her Planned Parenthood sticker last Monday and is now “forming a working group to facilitate a transparent, thorough examination of the environment for independent thinking and the articulate expression of ideas within our curriculum and student life” made up of members of the school community that aims to “examine the clarity, consistency and appropriateness of [Sacred Heart]’s policies regarding personal expression,“ according to the Sacred Heart website. It is an acknowledgment that activism is alive and well within the Sacred Heart environment, and that maybe their goal to be a school “where young women become global leaders” is happening at a quicker pace than they thought it was. It is an acknowledgment of their faults and their efforts to regain favor within their community. It is an effort to facilitate a new stronger strain of activism within their 731-student body. It is an acknowledgment of the sharp cultural divide between abortion and the Catholic faith. But, it is also an acknowledgment on the power and necessity of change within their environment, and a realization that Sacred Heart needs to continue to nurture their students’ passion and energy to fight for what they believe in.

Within the span of a mere few days, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has generated enough passion and energy to fuel their state, and it is already being cultivated with quick intensity. Students and survivors of Wednesday’s horrific shooting refuse to back down on their support for stricter gun control laws, and already have a battle plan on how to show it. The students started a rally in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday and Florida-based South Broward High School staged a walkout last Friday to voice their support, thus kicking off a schedule of several walkouts, protests, and rallies all across the country that support stricter gun control. The two most notable walkouts planned are one occurring March 14, which would mark the school shooting’s one month anniversary and is co-hosted by Women’s March; and one occurring on April 20, which would mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. They are encouraging people to vote against politicians funded by the National Rifle Association, and have called out Trump and his administration to demand change to current legislation and to offer more than just thoughts and prayers.

As of now, Carnegie Mellon’s landmark The Fence is painted in all white with #MeToo written on its posts. Besides advertising club events and celebrating community pride, The Fence has also become a place to show support of important social causes and to cherish diverse opinions. This is just one of the many ways that Carnegie Mellon nurtures social activism and discussion, and in the wake of national division, high schools need to do the same. Activism has become necessary, and debates on topics such as gun control and abortion are becoming increasingly harder to avoid. There will be some instances where it will require regulation. Sometimes, there will need to be an established order, good planning, and moral boundaries on protesting and speaking your mind. But in our current administration, activism seems to be really the only way anything will ever get done and should be motivated and taught alongside.

High school student and survivor Emma Gonzalez remarked that “it is time for victims to be the change we need to see” during Saturday’s rally. In Sandy Hook, these are elementary school children and their parents. While not victims in the same sense, Sacred Heart students and alumnae are being incorporated into this group examining personal expression. But in Parkland, these are high school students. And if that’s the case, high schools should start building a stronger foundation in their students now to shape them into a better generation of representatives than what the nation currently has.