During the days leading up to the Washington D.C. March For Our Lives event, Caroline McDermott ‘18 and Gianna Llewellyn ‘19 worked with the Office of Student Diversity and MultiCultural Affairs to bring 33 Fairfield students to the March 24 rally.
The March For Our Lives event was a student-led demonstration, organized after the mass shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
According to the March For Our Lives website, the demonstration was “created by, inspired by and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action.” The website added that these students seek “to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.”
An OrgSync email from Fairfield’s Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs program coordinator, Jasmine Raghunandan ‘17, was sent on March 19. According to the email, students could register to join Fairfield’s March on OrgSync for $10, a fee including the cost of transportation and snacks.
When the trip was announced, director of the Office of Residence Life and the Office of Student Diversity & Multicultural Affairs Ophelie Rowe-Allen said that 46 students expressed interest. Rowe-Allen also attended the march and expressed her pride in McDermott and Llewellyn’s desire to organize the trip.
“Gianna and Caroline bring forth three fundamental values of Jesuit Philosophy: social justice, solidarity and compassion,” stated Rowe-Allen.
Rowe-Allen also connected their effort to plan the trip to the University’s religious identity.
“Fairfield University as a Catholic Jesuit Institution is committed to the promotion of justice,” she stated. “I was proud to stand with students at the rally and listened to the conversations they were having with each other as they react to the different voices on stage.”
Students gathered at Alumni Hall to depart at 2:30 a.m., and arrived in the nation’s capital by 8 a.m. From there, students were given the chance to explore the city before joining the rally which began at noon on Pennsylvania Avenue.
As stated on the March For Our Lives website, the D.C. march aimed to raise awareness for “the collective voice of the March For Our Lives movement.”
Carrying pre-made signs, Fairfield students, including McDermott and Llewellyn, were vocal about the importance of the event.
McDermott explained her involvement by stressing that students should be able to go to school without fear. “I think that all students, including Fairfield students, need to learn from the students of Parkland, Fla.,” McDermott stated. “I am in awe of these high schoolers. They have used their unfortunate circumstances to take a stand for what is right and just.”
She added that she believes in “common sense gun laws” and that the United States should adopt stricter background checks and mental health screenings.
Likewise, Llewellyn acknowledged that the United States is becoming increasingly used to receiving news about mass shootings. “Our nation has become desensitized to the abominations that are mass shootings and gun violence. We think to ourselves, ‘Oh, that’s too bad’ and move on,’” said Llewellyn.
“We need to be more empathetic of the lives lost, of the kids that will never grow up,” she continued, “the parents that will never see their children get off the bus again and the students who have to learn how to dodge bullets.”
Llewellyn added that the success of the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017 made the decision to organize a similar Fairfield event for the March for our Lives simple.
“A march for student safety should be led by students,” said Llewellyn. “The response from Fairfield students wanting to get involved has been incredible.”
Other students who attended the march felt similarly to Llewellyn. After listening to speakers, including Stoneman Douglas students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, Cady Ridall ‘20 reiterated the importance of raising awareness about gun violence.
“The thing that inspired me most is that the kids who organized this event are two years younger than me,” said Ridall. “I feel like it’s my obligation or my duty to just do what’s right and take the responsibility and use my privilege to help those in need and raise awareness of this issue.”
Ridall, who attended last year’s Women’s March with Fairfield, also acknowledged that the event was not “a political issue.” That reason, she stressed, is why Fairfield students and students around the country should get involved.
“This is an issue of protecting life and this is an issue about gun safety and common sense,” she said.
Although Ridall previously attended a march, other students experienced marching for the first time. Freshman Chloe Riven was astounded by the support at the event.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was completely eye-opening and amazing,” said Riven. “It definitely brought tears to my eyes just to see everyone gathered together in such a nice way.”
Like Ridall, the point that Riven also emphasized was the need for student involvement.
“I think that it is very critical for every student to at least try to get involved with these events because it definitely makes an impact,” she said. “Each individual definitely counts and can make a difference, no matter how small you think that might be.”
Llewellyn echoed a similar sentiment, urging students to “stay socially active and aware” of our world events, especially pertaining to gun violence.
“This needs to come to an end before more innocent lives are taken due to unjust and outdated gun laws. It is important to know that the voices and actions of our generation do make a difference,” said Llewellyn.