“Enough,” comes the cry from teachers, students and parents. It is heard across the country, hand-written on thousands of signs and printed on the cover of Time magazine. America is talking about gun violence and school safety perhaps more than ever before. As has happened throughout history, this nationwide call for reform and change is led by America’s youth.
I am one of them. As a college student, school safety and our nation’s unparalleled high gun violence are literally life-or-death issues to me. We may be the land of the free but that doesn’t give someone the right to shoot my brothers at elementary school or my sister at high school. So what can we do about it?
We need to focus on things we can immediately change. The issues of gun violence and school safety are mistakenly being used as a political debate with people of opposite viewpoints resistant to compromise. In focusing on divisive issues such as gun control, we are missing the opportunity to gain ground in other policies that could drastically improve school safety.
In its “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the U.S.A," the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence advocates for a “public-health approach” in school safety and gun-violence prevention. This means focusing on prevention and intervention by promoting physically and emotionally safe school environments where risks can be identified and dealt with long before they lead to mass shootings.
The key in creating this ideal school environment is to provide an opportunity for students to have a voice. This would best be done through student-led school safety councils. Nobody knows how students feel or how we perceive our school environment better than us. Nobody else knows whether we feel bullied or marginalized or if there are faculty members we feel safe talking to. Even a teacher or principal may perceive their school environment far differently than a student.
For example, before college, even though I was a good student and athlete with many friends, I still perceived school at best as a mildly unpleasant but necessary place. At worst, school was an environment of judgment and bullying. My school had good and caring administrators and teachers, but even the best school leaders can only do so much. School- and district-level safety councils would be a catalyst for identifying the real issues and working in unity to create safer schools.
In these school safety councils, students would be equals with adult faculty. This would give students a more effective way to influence their education and community than marches and walk-outs. These student safety council representatives would be chosen in a way that ensures that a variety of students are represented.
Traditional student councils are peer-elected, which results in popular, well-liked kids being chosen. These students are rarely victims of bullying or marginalization and are less likely to be aware of such issues. Students could be chosen by faculty, or they could fill out an application to ensure that all kinds of students with different perspectives on their school environment would have a voice.1 comment on this story
Perhaps a student from each home room class could serve as a representative. The school safety councils could discuss bullying, emergency response and intervention, as well as ways to create a positive atmosphere, such as student appreciation activities and effective disciplinary techniques.
Let’s start working together as students and school leaders now. We cannot afford to wait for the great gun-control debate to be settled before we act. The longer we wait, the more lives are lost. Let our voices be heard.