What are Columbia students doing to engage with the recent movement of increased activism against gun violence? Daily Editor Isabel Sepúlveda found out by speaking to members of new organization Columbia University Against Gun Violence and attending two of the group’s events.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting this past February, there has been an uptick in activism across the country as high school students realize their political power and work to make change in their communities. While it would be impossible to say that Columbia students have been unaware of their ability to make change, even our community has been empowered by this new wave of student activism as seen in the formation of the new student organization Columbia University Against Gun Violence (CUAGV). Though only in existence for a few months, CUAGV is already ensuring they will make their mark.
Just before the March for Our Lives on March 24 of this year, I attended a poster-making event in Lerner Hall in an attempt to find a few members of CUAGV who could talk to me about their organization. I ended up talking to a few of the grad student organizers of the NYC March for Our Lives, who both highlighted the role that CUAGV played in the organization of the event and its role in bringing the campus community together. This significant organizing power was astonishing given how recently the group had come together.
I mentioned this in an interview with founder of the club, Nikki Shaner-Bradford, BC ‘19; she told me that reception in the CU community to the establishment was generally positive, as there had previously been no student-led groups or initiatives at Columbia or Barnard dealing with this issue. Membership “took off exponentially” as the march approached, and activists looking for a way to get involved with the newly re-energized fight against gun violence joined. As a result, she told me that turnout from the community and those interested in the club was “far beyond expectations,” leading the group to be able to march with New York Against Gun Violence (NYAGV) and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. She described that moment as “inspiring,” and added that it was “really important that we use this momentum to push our next steps.”
And use this momentum they have. It’s been a little over a month since the March for Our Lives, and already the group has held a letter-writing event, done an event on Comedy Central, and co-hosted two panel discussions. Shaner-Bradford emphasized these new partnerships as “crucial” as CUAGV works to come into their own as an organization and figure out the best way to contribute to this conversation. About a week ago, I made my way to one of these events, a panel discussion on gun violence in America co-hosted by the Barnard Human Rights Department. Shaner-Bradford sat on the panel alongside CU Dems Lead Activist Joanna Cohen, CC ’20, Barnard history professor Matt Vaz, and Vanderbilt professor of psychiatry Jonathan Metzl.
Moderated by Bwog’s own Sarah Dahl, BC ’19, the panel provided an interdisciplinary look at the issue of gun violence: the history of how the Second Amendment argument made by the NRA took the shape we see it in today, the true drivers of gun violence (or how little we have that can actually identify them), and what campus activism about this issue looks like. All the panelists were knowledgeable, though Metzl–who has written about gun violence, studied its connection to mental health, and has been involved in activism in Tennessee for years–had a tendency to dominate at times due to the breadth of his knowledge.
These panelists truly took a multifaceted look at the issue, highlighting not just mass shootings such as Parkland but also the rise in gun suicides among white men, and gun homicides that often affect men of color. They presented concrete steps to resolve the problem of gun violence: repealing the Dickey Amendment to facilitate more study of the problem, enforcement of orders to confiscate guns from domestic abusers and temporary orders for those at risk of suicide, and universal background checks. This middle-ground approach is indicative of the group’s goal on a broader scale: taking actionable steps to solve a problem. Shaner-Bradford, and CUAGV as a whole, encouraged all students who are at all interested in the issue, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, to get involved: “Getting rid of guns in this country is not currently feasible nor is it on the agenda, but commonsense laws that are proven to work at the state level and receive bipartisan support from the public are what we want to focus on.”
Admittedly, I was critical at first, not of the club’s goals, but of their ability to be intersectional in their fight. Though the panel presented an interdisciplinary look at the issue of gun violence, I noticed a gap in their rhetoric on the subject of race. Gun violence has a tendency to be ignored when the problem remains strictly in communities of color and many have pointed out that the issue only took on the new salience they have in the past few months because of the largely white Parkland activists. However, when I asked about this at the panel discussion, the panelists addressed the issue as fully as they had other questions, providing both context and possible solutions.
I was struck most by Shaner-Bradford’s response my question on how CUAGV is making their fight to end gun violence intersectional. She didn’t shy away from the privilege she and other members had as students at an elite, largely white institution, where many students didn’t grow up facing issues of gun violence on a daily basis. CUAGV has partnered with NYAGV to work with students in communities that do face these issues, and has worked with this organization to add their voices and experiences to the conversation. In general, she highlighted the importance that students with immense privilege have to use their platform not only to elevate issues into a national dialogue, but to also elevate people who might otherwise not have a chance to speak out on their own behalf.
Through my look into Columbia University Against Gun Violence, I have been most struck by the passion evident in both the group’s events and the speed of its formation. Shaner-Bradford’s reasoning for starting the organization speaks to this passion: “I grew up really close to Sandy Hook and was personally affected by it, and Parkland kind of forced me to deal with the realization that Sandy Hook happened my sophomore year of high school and now I’m almost done with my B.A. and the same — completely preventable — tragedies are occurring. I ended up reaching out to someone I know at Connecticut Against Gun Violence because I felt like the only way to cope with my feelings was to work on the solution in any way that I could.” As part of a generation who has never known a world before Columbine, her logic seems to speak to many looking to push back against the violence we’ve almost become used to seeing on the news, and turn that heartache into sustained action.
If you’re interested in getting involved in the next semester and beyond, you can find out more by visiting Columbia University Against Gun Violence on Facebook, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or filling out the group’s interest form.
once you have a logo, you know you’re official via CUAGV Facebook
listen to her she’s right via Bwog Staff