On March 14 at 9:55 am, one month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, hundreds of Carrboro High students gathered in the school courtyard for 17 minutes in response to the shooting. They stood in protest of the gun violence facing students in the United States by way of more-restrictive gun control legislation.
The 2017-2018 school year has since come to a close, and six months have passed since the walkout. Looking back at the event, a few important questions stand out: What insights on the walkout can we gain from hindsight? Was the walkout handled as effectively and appropriately as it could have been by students, teachers and administration? And perhaps most importantly, what was the impact of the walkout on our school and on the nation as a whole?
Students invested considerable effort in the organization of every aspect of March 14. In coordination with the organization Enough CHC (Chapel Hill-Carrboro), student representatives from Carrboro High began planning shortly after Stoneman-Douglas and working with school administration to ensure the event would go smoothly.
Ensuring that the event occurred without injury or violence was a major focus of administration and staff at CHS.
“My main concern was coming from a safety aspect,” said Grant Mayfield, Carrboro High Resource Officer.
Mayfield, a sergeant of the Carrboro Police Department, helped to offer a police presence to the event. His intent was to provide protection to students due to concerns that someone from outside the community would target the walkout as a result of it being so publicized.
Another matter of contention, voiced by students after the walkout, was a perceived misuse of the event by students as a 17-minute break from school rather than an actual show of support.
“I kind of wish that maybe people took it more seriously. I think a lot of people chose to use it to get out of class,” said Charlotte Ellis, an Enough CHC student leader.
Not all students at Carrboro chose to take part in the walkout. The emphasis on implementing gun-control legislation led some to opt out of participating.
“If it had just been to honor the people who lost their lives, obviously, I would have gone; I think that’s an honorable cause. But it was very obviously politicized,” said Ryan Helms, a senior who did not take part in the event.
Some raised issue with the way in which the school administration was involved with the event. In preparation for the student-led exit, walkout organizers spoke with Principal Beverly Rudolph and the school board, and as a result, the schedule of March 14 was modified to accommodate the event. What would otherwise be considered skipping class was turned into a sanctioned movement into the courtyard, causing some to feel that the intended purpose was diminished.
“They robbed the people who did it of the opportunity to actually do something” said Helms.
Helms was not alone in his concern. Some people at Carrboro reflected on how the sanctioning of the walkout affected to the tradition of “civil disobedience” typically associated with an event like this.
“The whole part of a ‘civil unrest’ or ‘civil protest’ is to put yourself out there and have a consequence to it,” said Mayfield.
This wasn’t the only issue raised regarding the nullifying of consequences for participants. Some considered the potential precedent set by that decision to be most concerning, and what it may mean for administrative handling of future student protests.
“Let’s say I’m a student. If I have something I want to walk out for, why do I get consequenced when it didn’t happen the first time?” said Mayfield.
Many of these points were raised by people concerned that the intended message of the walkout may have been softened or diminished through the administrative involvement in the protest, but the attitude is not held by all CHS students. Some believe that the impact and reach of the walkout stood on its own.
“There weren’t really that many consequences for whatever we were doing, but I don’t think it was so significant that we completely missed the point,” said Ellis.
Others are of a similar opinion that the event was both meaningful and significant beyond administrative involvement.
“It’s really nice that you guys had your voice, and it was only you. It wasn’t adults. It wasn’t other teachers; it wasn’t anyone else. It was only you guys up there talking, and you guys protesting. That’s what it should have been all along,” said Mayfield.