Listen to ideas for change from the post-Columbine generation

Written by By Alec Downing, Sarah Haghi,and Madalyn McHugh
February 19, 2018

Special to The Times

We as students must grapple with the fact that simply by walking onto campus we are putting our bodies at risk.

Walking into our multimedia reporting class it felt like any other Thursday. Before class began, we chatted about classes we’ll be taking spring quarter, what television shows we binged on the night before and how we were all ready for a three-day weekend.

What we weren’t talking about was that in another corner of our nation, a man about our age had gunned down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

We are journalism students, we keep ourselves informed. We also are a generation born after Columbine. We have grown up with this threat of violence hanging above our heads from the day we set foot in a school. It is our “normal.”

Despite our desensitization, we as students must grapple with the fact that simply by walking onto campus we are putting our bodies at risk. In our journalism class, our professor, Sonora Jha, forced us to talk about how we would approach covering a school shooting. Each of us was wide-awake. Each of us had ideas — no — demands.

We need to see media coverage that focuses on the systems in place that facilitated these horrific events, whether it is white supremacy, male fragility, toxic masculinity and the National Rifle Association’s power. These are the powerful systems that lead to domestic terrorism. Investigate these systems.

We would like to see a change in the way mental health is discussed following these events. What does the umbrella term of “mental health” really mean? An increasing number of people in our generation has sought mental-health support at some point. Across the U.S., one of every nine adolescents aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the last year, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In Seattle, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects a good part of our population. Washington is in the top five states with the highest prevalence of mental illness, and has one of the lowest rates of access to care for adults and youth. Wouldn’t our city and state be, as a result, more of a venue for something like this if mental health is the root of what sends a shooter on a murderous rampage? Mental-health issues are not driving us to kill.

We would like to see a less glorified portrayal of the perpetrator, as his story seems to be overshadowing the stories of the victims. Since 2012, shootings have happened in 239 schools, and 438 people have been shot, with the numbers increasing every year. For the international student in our class, the U.S. seems like a uniquely frightening place. In comparison to other countries that give their citizens certain rights to guns, it seems as if the American people and media are obsessed with the number of people killed and the motivation behind the shooter’s actions rather than getting to the root of the problem. America is obsessed with numbers, with “greatness.” Are we culturally complicit in driving up the numbers?

We also notice a severe lack of women interviewed and quoted. After the shooting in Florida on Wednesday, the mainstream media quoted male senators, President Donald Trump, representatives of the NRA — all were male. We need to make sure the gun- control issue isn’t male-dominated. We may be perpetuating the notion that toxic masculinity is best tackled by more masculinity.

We need media to scrutinize our politicians with clear and consistent data mining. We need in-depth tracking and analysis of which politicians are receiving money from the NRA and other gun-enthusiast groups. We need to be reminded after each and every shooting that the reason gun laws have not changed despite the ever increasing death toll is simply money. We student journalists have a tip for professional journalists — follow the money.

The female students of our class would like to understand what is happening among the young men of our generation that is leading them to these acts of extreme violence. Does the boy sitting next to me in class need my help? Or should I be afraid of him? Is there something that we can do as a community to save us all? Before the next shooter looms up from among us, we need to have blunt conversations with each other and in the media. We don’t want to feel alienated anymore. We need to stick together as a generation and use the political power we have through our collective voice.

This will not be the last mass shooting. It will not be the last time journalists are faced with covering this story. As the journalists of the future and as students who put our bodies in harm’s way every day, we want stories that ask the hardest questions.

Composite photo of three SU StudentsAlec Downing is a first-year journalism major from Maple Valley. Sarah Haghi is sophomore from Southern California studying photojournalism. Madalyn McHugh is a junior from Sammamish studying journalism and Japanese. Classmates in Seattle University’s multimedia reporting class contributed to this Op-Ed.

It appeared in print edition of The Seattle Times on Feb. 19, 2018 and online Feb. 16, 2018.