By Julie Pike, editor-in-chief
On the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, USM Thinking Matters partnered with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition (MGSC) to provide an educational platform for students, faculty and community members. The Walk-In Against Gun Violence event was created to teach the community about gun violence policies and to join together to make Maine a safer place.
The event coincided with spring break for many public schools, so the MGSC organized for a walk-in aimed at high school and college students. Rebecca Nisetich, the Honors Program Director, explained that calling the event a walk-in was to combine a walk-out and a teach-in.
It began with opening remarks in Hannaford Hall, with speakers including Nisetich and Omar Andrews, the President of Husky Vets, a chapter of the Student Veterans Association at USM. Afterwards a walk-out was organized for attendees to walk together around the Portland campus.
The event included several teach-in breakout sessions, all facilitated by USM or high school students, to inform the attendees about recent gun violence issues and encourage discussion. “The teach-in seminars are educational opportunities that provide students with context and tools to understand the conversations we’re having, as a nation, around gun violence, gun control and mental health issues,” Nisetich said.
Shaman Kirkland, current Chair of the Student Senate, led one of the first sessions covering the topic of domestic violence. Other sessions touched on the subject of suicide, school safety, the Second Amendment and race. The second half of the event switched to a focus on what actions can be taken to combat gun violence.
Ed Suslovic, from the Board of Directors of the MGSC, stated that the walk-in connected with the theme of Thinking Matters, an annual student research symposium, since they were talking about policy proposals and how to turn them into active policies.
“USM opening up and broadening Thinking Matters to include this event is a great example of a public institution of higher learning doing exactly what it should, which is provide a space for people to learn and become educated,” Suslovic said. Nisetich added that she thought the events worked well together because they both provide students with opportunities to use their education in real-world contexts.
There were two key points that Suslovic wanted everyone who attended to take away from the event, “That they are not alone in their passion and commitment to addressing this issue,” and that regardless of age, anyone can get involved. “I don’t care how old you are, you can make an impact,” Suslovic said.
He added that the fight against gun violence is now in the hands of the younger generation, noting the student survivors from the Parkland shooting as an example. “My generation has had plenty of time to solve this problem, and we haven’t,” said Suslovic.
This sort of thinking was mirrored in the event, as the discussions were all student-led. USM faculty and members of the MGSC were there to provide support and guidance where needed, but ultimately, the event was in the hands of the students who participated.
“It’s really not our place at this point to tell these students what they should do and what they should focus on,” Suslovic said. “We’re there to support them, but it’s their movement now.”
Suslovic stated that USM is the first college in Maine to form a college chapter of the MGSC. Last year, he added, when there was a proposed bill to allow carrying of a concealed weapon at public universities in Maine, was when this chapter was formed. Kirkland was present at the hearing for the proposed legislation, expressing his objection to it. Suslovic felt that he saw this student-led movement against gun violence last year, and that the walk-in continues the student efforts.
“This is truly led by students, for students, because they are the ones to be the changemakers.”