GW must acknowledge implicit biases and voice support for all student activists

Students have hardly shied away from taking a stand for what they believe in. Whether that means being a leader in a student organization or using art as activism, it’s common to find young activists across college campuses and high schools grounds.

After the tragic school shooting last month at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., students across the country – starting with those directly affected by the shooting – protested gun laws by walking out of school. This included hundreds of high school students in the D.C. area who walked out and protested at the Capitol.

But this was hardly the first time students captivated the world’s attention. In the 1960s, it was black college students who started the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which led on to be one of the central roots of the Civil Rights Movement. In 2016, it was Lakota Sioux teenagers who brought attention to the Dakota Access Pipeline which would go through Native American reservations and likely pollute the Missouri River.

However, for the students who have always been hesitant about making their voices heard because of the impact it could have on their future – this time was different. Last month, several universities released statements saying that students who get punished for peacefully protesting would have no impact on their admissions decision. Institutions like Harvard University, University of Pittsburgh and our very own GW all released statements that encouraged prospective students to partake in civil activism. Although the statements were in response to Parkland, most of them didn’t specifically address the protests for gun reform. But the decision to now release these statements of support draws new questions about where they were during other important movements. For example, these encouraging letters from high-ranking institutions weren’t published during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. The support for Black Lives Matter on GW’s campus was seen from both student organizations, like the Black Student Union, and the student body. Universities should have released similar statements in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, comparable to what they released in February after Parkland. Moving forward, universities must be aware of their biases when speaking out after certain protests.

While most colleges would treat peaceful protests the same regardless of the call to action, it should be acknowledged that most of the country is treating the protesters of Parkland in a much different light than the grassroots activists behind the Black Lives Matter movement. There wasn’t an outpour of support coming from colleges or large businesses in response to Black Lives Matter. Although the policies within each university likely protect all students who participate in peaceful protests, a clear bias is sent when a university openly supports the Parkland students, but not those protesting against police brutality, including shootings and racial discrimination.

Although it would be wrong to put the Parkland students against the activists for the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to understand the bias, both implicit and explicit, that motivates people – including GW’s administrators – to decide which movements are worth explicitly supporting. Some people might argue that the Black Lives Matter movement and the Parkland students are advocating for two separate causes – one is focused on fighting against systemic racism against black communities, and the other is about gun control reform, specifically in light of school shootings, as well as protecting schoolchildren. But Dream Defenders, a grassroots organization based in Florida, has worked hard to improve the lives of black people and communities through activism. Their origins lie in activism and protesting after the shooting and murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, who never got to finish school. Organizations like Dream Defenders and Black Lives Matter, which is made up of students and non-students alike, deserve to be publically included in GW’s admissions statements, just as much as the Parkland students.

We should applaud the powerful work that the students from Parkland are doing. I wholeheartedly support their agenda of making schools a safer place for students and faculty. I will be joining these students on March 24 for the March for Our Lives in D.C. But it’s important to check ourselves and remember the voices, mostly black and brown, that are ignored and don’t get the open recognition that they deserve compared to the mostly white ones who are dying in the school shootings across the country.

Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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