More than 100 undergraduates and admitted students, on campus for Bulldog Days, crammed into a classroom in Linsly Chittenden Hall on Tuesday afternoon to listen to a panel discussion featuring Ryan Deitsch and Sofie Whitney, seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Deitsch and Whitney’s visit to campus comes in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas attack on Feb. 14, during which 17 people were killed and 17 others wounded. In a talk titled “The Children Will Lead Us: Parkland Students and Gun Violence Prevention Advocates,” Deitsch and Whitney discussed the need for gun reform, the importance of voting and their rising fame as gun reform activists. The hour-long event was hosted by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism and co-sponsored by the Yale College Democrats. Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21, the Yale Democrats’ communications director, moderated the talk.
“We felt like our purpose was to speak out and take action because no one should ever have to go through what our community went through,” Whitney said during the event. “Our anger and emotion fueled our fire to do all of this.”
Since the shooting, Deitsch, the founder of his school’s improv comedy group, and Whitney, who sings and plays guitar outside of class, have built support for and helped organize the movement to bolster gun control policies. They recently helped organize the March for Our Lives, which brought hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. last month to call for stronger gun control laws.
At the beginning of the discussion, Deitsch and Whitney described what they called their “five point plan for gun violence,” which consists of a ban on assault rifles, a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks for those seeking to purchase guns, funding for Center for Disease Control and Prevention research on gun violence and the digitization of the ATF’s gun registry.
At several points during the discussion, the two young activists stressed the importance of voting and speaking out.
“Your voice matters,” Deitsch said. “The biggest lie … is that your vote won’t count, that one voice can’t make a difference. Even though, when you put it all up against the odds, for the most part it may be true, that doesn’t mean give up. That doesn’t mean stop talking, that your voice isn’t being heard. It means speak louder.”
Deitsch emphasized the importance of technology and social media in spreading the gun reform message, which “reached so many people in so little time.”
Deitsch said the shooting was especially shocking because Parkland was widely considered one of the safest cities in Florida, with only one murder in the eight years before 2018. Deitsch noted that while the shooting at his school generated wall-to-wall media coverage and national attention, those who care about gun control must not ignore the many individual instances of gun violence that take place in other parts of the country every day.
Audience members noted that Yale students can learn a lot from Deitsch and Whitney.
“The Parkland student leaders represent the power of youth activism, and the role our generation can play in the political process when we assert ourselves,” said Jordan Cozby ’20, president of the Yale College Democrats. “The Parkland students’ moral clarity in demanding common sense gun violence prevention is essential to moving our political system forward on this issue.”
Among the more than 100 people crammed into the classroom and spilling into the hallway was a sizable cohort of admitted students.
Zev Kazati-Morgan, an admitted student visiting campus for Bulldog Days, told the News that he found the event both informative and enjoyable.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting a taste of all of the resources Yale has to offer and all the people they can bring to campus,” Kazati-Morgan said. “I learned about specific techniques and strategies that I can use to confront people who do not support gun control back at home.”
The March for Our Lives was one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War.
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org