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Why #WalkUpNotOut is Dangerous

On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire on teachers and students, killing 17 people. As is to be expected after mass shootings, which have become unfortunately common, people responded to the tragedy by calling for stricter gun control laws. A big part of this movement came on March 14, exactly one month after the shooting, when students all across the country conducted a walkout, leaving their classes for seventeen minutes, one minute for each person who lost their life in the shooting.

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While many were supportive of the walkout, many others opposed it with #WalkUpNotOut.

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In summary, the “Walk Up Not Out” perspective essentially argues that, instead of walking out of school to protest gun violence, a better alternative is to walk up to students who appear lonely and be nice to them/try to be their friend. Although being nice to each other is something we should all strive to do on a daily basis, it is not the be all end all solution to end gun violence in America. In fact, this notion is actually a pretty dangerous one, and here are a few reasons why.

1.  It severely undermines the complexity of mental illness.

Now, I’m not an expert on mental illness, nor do I have one myself, but the one thing I do know is that the brain and mental illness are quite complex. Some days you have really good days, some days are really bad, and then there are days that range somewhere in the middle. While I’m sure that knowing you have people close to you that care about you can be comforting in those low moments, having good friends isn’t going to cure someone of their illness. In addition to these strong relationships, some people strongly benefit from therapy, while others need some form of medication to help them through the day. Implying that kindness is the best medicine for mental illness diminishes the experiences of those who need more than a good friend to help them overcome their struggles.

2.  Not all “lonely” kids have mental illness, nor will they all be the cause of a mass shooting.

For most of my pre-college school experience, I was a loner. I didn’t have a steady, consistent group of friends until around sophomore year of high school, and I was okay with that. While inviting someone sitting by themselves at lunch to sit with you is a nice gesture, I would have chosen to sit by myself for half an hour than sit with a group of people that I didn’t really know, and maybe didn’t really like, every day of the week. Some people prefer to be more solitary than be around people all the time. And while there are a fair number of students who are not solitary by choice, they don’t all grow up to be severely unstable and shoot up a school.  Solitude is not a definite indicator for mental illness or violence.

3.  It insinuates that the victims are to blame.

When one is essentially saying that, “If you’d be nicer to your peers, then the school shootings will stop,” it doesn’t take much effort to arrive at the statement, “If you were just nicer to that kid, then he wouldn’t have brought a gun into our school and killed people.” In the case of any violent crime, the violence is NEVER the victim’s fault. A victim is never responsible for what someone else chooses to do to them. You are not responsible for everyone else’s actions, nor are you responsible for their mental health. To imply otherwise is not only irresponsible, but also dangerous and appalling.

4.  It discourages political activism.

Only 55.7% of those eligible to vote did so in the 2016 presidential election, which puts the United States pretty close to the bottom of the list in terms of developed countries and voter turnout. In today’s society, people are too complacent. It has become too common for people to say, “My vote/voice doesn’t matter/won’t really make a difference in this election/social movement.” Despite this widespread complacency, the country is also seeing a generation of young people standing up for something that matters and actually wanting to be politically active citizens. But general kindness is better than being outspoken about serious and complex issues, so they should just go back inside, shut up, and not exercise their rights as members of a democratic society, just because you don’t agree with what they are protesting against, right? Wrong. Even if you don’t agree with their platform, we should all be thrilled that the next generation of citizens, leaders, and changemakers knows that their voices matter and are using them to promote change, not shutting them down before hearing them out.

So, the next time you see a #WalkUpNotOut type post/article, maybe think twice before sharing.

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Rachel is a sophomore History Major and Women's Studies Minor hailing from Seneca Falls, NY. Her hobbies include reading, writing, spending time with friends, and spending more time than is humanly possible watching the TV show Once Upon a Time and reading/writing fan fiction. Her life goals include writing something that will later become famous and working as an important person at an important place.
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