University High School students attend walkout in protest of gun violence. (Photo courtesy of Luba Al-khalili)

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University High School students walkout in protest of gun violence

Students organized a protest with a surprise turnout.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/sydneygaw/" target="_self">Sydney Gaw</a>

Sydney Gaw

June 2, 2022
Last Tuesday, 21 more lives were lost due to a school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Once again, family members, friends and people all across the country are overcome with grief at the loss of these children and faculty members.

In the past few days, the tragedy has rekindled the nationwide movement against gun violence. But this time, a new generation is at the forefront of efforts to strengthen gun laws and prevent gun violence in schools. With students from every corner of the country voicing their concerns over school safety, it becomes clear that those at the heart of the cause are the ones most threatened by gun violence in schools.

Students attend a walkout at campus crossroads. (Photo courtesy of Luba Al-Khalili)

On May 26, over 100 University High students gathered at the campus crossroads to participate in a schoolwide walkout. The event, organized by sophomores Luba Al-Khalili and Aisha Vaughan, was not only a show of solidarity towards those in Uvalde but also a demonstration against gun violence. 

“The Walkout had two main intentions: to show solidarity for the Uvalde Victims and to protest the lack of gun control in America,” Vaughan said. “As students, we are tired of seeing shootings that would have been prevented by proper legislation. We need both [political] parties to unite to solve this issue, [and] we can’t keep watching students and teachers get murdered.”

Al-Khalili and Vaughan hosted the walkout through the campus club and nonprofit, Act for Change. According to Al-Khalili, the AFC founder and president, the club has been involved in various community issues and works regularly with local government representatives to uplift youth perspectives.

After news of the shooting in Uvalde flooded the internet, Al-Khalili and Vaughan knew they had to get involved.

“Essentially, we’re trying to enact change in our society and communicate to as many students as possible that this issue needs to be seen and resolved,” Al-Khalili said. “As students, we don’t have as much power, but we are trying to show that there is a difference that needs to be made, because I don’t feel safe going to school, and many others don’t as well. We shouldn’t have to face that as a society.”

Vaughan created a digital flier to publicize the event. (Graphic design by Aisha Vaughan)

In less than 24 hours, Al-Khalili and Vaughan worked out the logistics of the event, which included choosing the location, writing speeches to present during the walkout, scheduling another speaker and publicizing. To spread the word as quickly as possible, Vaughan created a digital flier and post for AFC’s Instagram account (@afc.usa).

The following day at 12:00 p.m., students departed class 10 minutes early to meet at the designated location. Given the short notice, the AFC members were astounded by the turnout.

“It was so heartwarming to know that there are other people advocating for change — that they are there to spread awareness, to listen, to be knowledgeable, and to really work for the change they wish to see,” Al-Khalili said.

After a brief speech by Al-Khalili, everyone remained silent for 19 minutes — one for each of the 19 children killed at Robb Elementary.

“No one was on their phones or talking, everyone was present,” Vaughan said. “It was such a powerful moment, and I will never forget how grateful I felt that other people supported the gun control movement. I have been protesting school shootings since 2018, and I’m devastated that we still have to fight. But I’m glad I’m not alone.”

As much as America is often divided over issues like gun control, both Vaughan and Al-Khalili noted that the crowd before them included students from a wide political spectrum. Regardless of political affiliation, the sense of unity present at that moment was insurmountable, said Vaughan.

As we’ve seen with the response to shootings at Columbine High, Sandy Hook Elementary, Stoneman Douglas High and now Robb Elementary, gun violence is not a singular community issue, but a national issue plaguing our society. Al-Khalili shared with me an anecdote that sums up the boundless impact of unsafe school environments. 

“This really hits close to home for me, because at my middle school, we got called that there was a bomb threat, and from that moment, I was so scared,” Al-Khalili said. “I knew that this wasn’t just a problem that certain areas are facing — this is all of us, whether you live in a suburban or urban area, you will feel this fear because Congress isn’t taking the right actions that we need to protect our students.”

According to the Washington Post, the Robb Elementary casualties are a direct result of insufficient gun control laws in the state of Texas. Despite the damage, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott still refuses to impose greater restrictions on gun ownership and use, arguing instead that efforts to reduce gun violence should focus on “promoting mental health services” and “‘hardening’ school campuses and identifying threats.”

After a walkout, students attend a call with Orange County District Attorney candidate Pete Hardin. (Photo courtesy of Luba Al-Khalili)

While both initiatives are arguably long overdue, it is hard to say if they will be effective. For now, all we can do is work towards strengthening community ties and select leaders who can bring about positive change to the current legislation, Al-Khalili said. 

After the walkout, participants were prompted to join AFC members in the library for a live-streamed call with OC District Attorney candidate Pete Hardin to gain insight from an office perspective. During the meeting, Hardin outlined his plan to protect schools and push for legislative action for stronger gun laws.

He acknowledged that the United States is one of the only countries in the world facing such a crisis and that people have the power to incite change if the proper actions to keep schools safe are not being taken.

“If you or your parents can vote, vote for leaders that want to enact gun control,” Vaughan says. “Vote for people will protect students and teachers. If you can’t vote, donate to ‘Students Demand’ and continue to protest. Our voices will be heard.”

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