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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Surge in youth activism

Reza Ali, a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School. Ali is one of many students across the country who has become active in the fight against gun violence (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

Gun deaths spur action by Jesuit school students

Cassandra Muratore ’18 co-wrote this story. Alexa Pollice ’21 contributed to this story.

Reza Ali, a sophomore at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, is working to take a stand against gun violence after living through the murder of a fellow classmate and friend.

Salvatore DiNubile, a junior at the Prep, was shot in the chest and back in South Philadelphia last October, along with Caleer Miller, a student from the Mastery Charter school. A 16-year-old boy was charged with the crime. DiNubile and Miller were two of 265 individuals whose murders were caused by guns in Philadelphia in 2017.

Ali said the death of DiNubile shocked him and his classmates at the Prep.

“When we lost Sal, that hit hard,” Ali said. “It finally got to some kids that we have a problem here. Gun violence is prevalent in our city. This affects everyone.”

For Ali, the Feb. 14 shooting of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Florida, further proves no city is safe from gun violence and it is up to students to make their voices heard.

“When we heard about the Parkland shooting, it was at first grief,” Ali said. “We were confused. How can we keep letting this happen? And then I kind of hit my tipping point, like, ok, can we make a change for once?”

Ali, like many other students across the country, said he has been inspired by classmates of victims of the shooting at Stoneman.

Survivors of the shooting have been actively speaking out against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and advocating for safer schools. They’re getting their message across over social media, in town hall meetings and through the organization of the March for Our Lives protest, set to take place March 24 in Washington D.C. Sister marches will also be hosted that day in Philadelphia and over 500 other cities across the world.

“These kids aren’t going to stop,” Ali said. “This kind of movement is starting, which you can see from the walkouts, which you can see from the marches. These kids actually feel the need to make a change.”

Ali, co-president of the Prep Young Democrats, is garnering support for a walkout at 10 a.m on March 14 at the Prep in unison with other schools across the country. The goal of the walkouts is to call attention to violence in schools as well as honor the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting.

Ali and high schoolers across the country are weighing the consequences of their participation in these peaceful protests. Several Prep students said they were hesitant to participate in the March 14 protest for fear of being reprimanded. Others said they would participate if they knew they would not get detention or, as the Prep calls it, JUG, which stands for Justice Under God.

Many colleges have assured high school students that their college acceptances will not be revoked if their high schools discipline them for participating in peaceful protests.

St. Joe’s and 25 other institutions in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) all issued statements in the last two weeks that they would not penalize applicants.

Students walk on campus at St. Joe’s (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

On Feb. 27, Saint Joseph’s University’s Office of Admissions posted a tweet citing the university’s institutional values as the reason behind its decision.

“Engaged citizenship, along with care and concern for the global community, are values central to a Saint Joseph’s University education. To that end, acceptance to SJU will not be withheld from students who exercise their right to peaceful protest,” the office tweeted.

Ali said the reasons to participate in this protest outweigh the obligation to attend class – or the fear of getting JUG.

“We lost 17 students in Florida, and the fact of the matter is, me missing one period or 17 minutes of class that will help to start a conversation, which will make a change, is worth it,” Ali said.

Ronan Egan, a senior at the Prep and member of the Prep Young Republicans, said people tend to make the issue partisan, but it is one everyone needs to help solve.

“I support and applaud those who plan to march,” Egan said. “Gun violence in schools is a national issue that needs to be solved, regardless of political affiliation. This issue impacts all people, and we need to figure out a solution, together, to the problem.”

Ali said the goal of the protests–to help others by preventing instances of gun violence from continuing to occur–goes hand in hand with the Jesuit ideals of his school.

Michael Sheeran, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), issued an online letter on Feb. 28 directed to President Donald Trump and members of the United States Congress.

“We adults have repeatedly failed to fix this singularly American phenomenon,” Sheeran wrote in his letter. “Now we must listen to our youth.”

At St. Joe’s, students are listening to the high school students leading protests as well as making their own voices heard. About 20 students met in Wolfington Hall on Feb. 28 to discuss their reactions to the Parkland shooting and what they could do to help make a change.

Paul Ammons ’20, one of the students in charge of the meeting, said the goal was to create an honest and open dialogue about gun violence.

“Why are we not doing anything on our campus about gun violence, and why are we saying nothing while these students in Florida are running an entire movement?” Ammons said. “The time is ripe for students to take action and create change.”

Tess Hill ’18 said the group discussed why they think the shooting in Parkland has ignited action amongst youth.

“I think there is a shift in feelings throughout America because the victims and survivors are speaking for themselves and acting for themselves, and I think the rest of us can learn so much from them,” Hill said, adding that St. Joe’s students should follow the lead of the activism of high school students.

Ashley Wilson ’12, communications manager at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said her St. Joe’s education inspired her to take up a career in Catholic social justice. She said she thinks that institutions should publicly affirm leadership by students, and that it’s a part of St. Joe’s mission to do so.

“Why wouldn’t St. Joe’s want engaged, passionate students who are concerned about social justice issues, who are taking matters into their own hands as part of their student body?” Wilson asked.

Hill said she believes that St. Joe’s students are not always engaged in activism and they should use this an opportunity to take action.

“St. Joe’s students, as wonderful as they are, have a tendency to be complacent with the current society and system,” Hill said. “We should take a note from the Parkland students, and take the situation into our own hands. The Jesuits have always been politically engaged and active. There’s no reason that St. Joe’s students shouldn’t be too.”

Dan Joyce, S.J., said the university has a duty to advocate for change.

Students walk on the St. Joseph’s Preparatory School campus (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

“We have an obligation to contribute to the conversation and to help the conversation lead to something that is true,” Joyce said. “We’re responsible.”

That is also true for the Prep according to Mark Dushel, associate campus minister at the Prep.

“Jesuit schools have the reputation of being more politically active and there are great examples of Jesuits themselves that have been politically active,” Dushel said. “So I think that certainly finds its way into how we engage with these things as a school.”

Frank Bernt, Ph.D., chair of teacher education at St. Joe’s, said he hopes that adults will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the students advocating for change.

“I think the fact that the students are taking a stand rather than waiting for the adults to do it gives hope to the community,” Bernt said. “This can’t be a single generational thing. It’s everybody. It’s really a national problem, and we should respond to it that way.”

At the Prep, Ali knows that change may come slowly, but he said he is confident peaceful protests from students will create momentum.

“Us walking down Girard isn’t going to lead to the president signing an executive order for gun control or congressional approval,” Ali said, “But I think it’s really focused on just starting the conversation. That’s the goal.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that 455 cities are hosting March for Our Lives protests. This number continues to increase and was over 500 by the time of publication.

 Alexa Pollice ’21 contributed to this story. 

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