High Schoolers Hold Gun Violence Walkout


Devin Cowan

Oberlin High School and College students protested gun violence by walking out of school last Friday.

Local students walked out of Oberlin High School last Friday to honor the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. The walkout — one of thousands across the U.S. — was also part of a continued effort to protest gun violence as a part of the national, youth-led movement that began after the February mass shooting in Parkland, FL.

The students left school at 1 p.m. and congregated in Tappan Square, where community members and college students joined in solidarity. The walkout featured speeches by students and a moment of silence.

“Your presence today sends a message,” said Oberlin High School senior Madeline Hennessey in her opening remarks to the crowd. “A message that we as students, as Americans, and as humans will no longer tolerate the inaction towards gun violence that is plaguing our society.”

Hennessey, along with two other seniors from the school, Eva Phillips and Lucy Cipinko, took the lead in organizing the event.

Janet Garrett, a Democrat running for Ohio’s Fourth Congressional District and a former educator in Oberlin, also spoke at the event.

“I want to apologize for my generation for leaving this problem in your hands,” she told the crowd of students. “But I know that you will be the ones to make the difference. You are an inspiration to the nation.”

Garrett called on Congress to ban bump stocks, reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons, and eliminate the sale of weapons with high-capacity magazines.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, high school students in Connecticut planned a walkout for April 20, and the movement soon spread nationwide. According to the National School Walkout website, which offers a planning toolkit for student organizers, there were over 2,600 walkouts planned.

The three Oberlin student organizers, who were already close friends, had been planning the walkout since February — soon after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which sparked a new mass movement for gun control. However, while planning the walkout, the organizers faced significant pushback from the school administration.

“They did everything in their power to make sure it didn’t happen,” Phillips said.

School administrators originally wanted the event to happen on school grounds. Eventually, the organizers and administrators came to a compromise which required students to have permission slips signed by their parents in order to participate in the walkout.

“A lot of the conflict stemmed from safety concerns,” Phillips said. “But at the same time, them being concerned for our safety is kind of the reason why we’re protesting. So we found it kind of ironic.”

The organizers wanted the event to be inclusive to the greater Oberlin community. They worked with Lili Sandler — who heads the community organization Lorain County Rising — in the planning process.

“The community definitely showed up,” Sandler said. “Overall I was just really impressed by how well-organized and how well-prepared the students were. And very proud as a community member how they took this event and made it work for Oberlin students and what those students need.”

The students are part of a generation that has grown up amidst mass public shootings, many of which have happened in schools. Cipinko recalled the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT, as the first time her parents had to explain to her what mass shootings were. The New York Times reported that since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 239 school shootings, in which a total of 138 people have been killed.

“It’s kind of a reality that gun violence is something our high school deals with,” Cipinko said.

In February, less than 10 days after the Parkland shooting, Oberlin city schools were on lockdown after an altercation the night before when an Oberlin High School student claimed he was shot at.

“Our high school building is, like, one floor and there are a lot of windows, and our safety officer literally told us just jump out the window,” Hennessey said. “He said, ‘Don’t wait for the adults to tell you what to do, get out.’ It’s something that’s ingrained in our heads.”

“We’re desensitized,” Cipinko added.