When Miami native Lola Pierson '20 saw the survivors of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, publicly demanding changes in gun policy, she realized that this time was different.
In the midst of growing calls to address the devastation of gun violence in America, Pierson helped lead an effort to organize a campus rally on March 1 to advocate for stricter gun laws and school safety measures.
"There is a long history of college student activists exerting their influence in politics," Pierson said. "In this generation particularly, my peers and I want to utilize the power we have as college students to create change, and we're so happy that Connecticut College encourages us to raise our voices."
It has been nearly two decades since the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado stunned the country and gave rise to the modern climate of political and legal conflict surrounding gun rights. After each subsequent school shooting, national discussion of new gun laws has typically faded from public consciousness within a few months with no concrete legislative progress to show for it.
But after the Parkland shooting, students across the country have demonstrated an unprecedented determination to make sure that doesn't happen again. While members of the Conn community who spoke at the rally expressed anger and frustration with the political system, they remain optimistic, as does Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) who came to campus to speak at the event, and offer his support for the student movement.
Courtney said a proposal in Congress to expand background checks and regulate certain weapons now has more support than ever before because of the effectiveness of outspoken students.
"This is not happening because of an epiphany," Courtney told the crowd through a bullhorn. "It's because of external pressure. Young people are making a real difference."
The rally began with a campus-wide walkout, and then featured a series of student speakers who recited gun violence facts and statistics, addressed specific policy proposals and encouraged attendees to vote and be heard.
"A lot of youth today feel like they don't have a say," said Jillian Noyes '19, one of the rally's organizers. "Having events like these are important to put pressure on politicians so they know what their constituents are feeling."
Students nationwide are planning a walkout protest on March 14 to keep the spotlight focused on gun safety measures. Since Connecticut College will be closed that week for spring break, Pierson, Noyes and their fellow organizers felt it was important to exhibit their solidarity with the movement by holding the rally before they leave campus.
"I am beyond thankful for my peers for sharing and listening to such thoughtful words with such great conviction. The people who showed up to this rally are all active leaders, and I'm looking forward to seeing change stem from this community," Pierson said.