On March 14, 2018, kids across the country showed their solidarity with Stoneman Douglas High School students by walking out of school for 17 minutes. These 17 minutes symbolized the 17 lives lost in the school shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida in February. According to USA Today, hundreds of students from 2,800 schools walked out at 10 a.m. on March 14th. These students ranged in age from elementary school to high school. The student leading this movement are quickly becoming the future of American leadership. They have the power to change what we have become. And they know it.
The Walk Out movement was not embraced by all. A teacher in Virginia, named Jodie Katsetos, posted an image that went viral. The Daily Beast reported on the image that Katsetos shares. Her image pushes for a movement called Walk UP not OUT. Counter to the school walkouts, the Walk UP movement encouraged students to stay in school and “walk UP to someone and JUST BE NICE.” This idea of Walking Up and not OUT soon went viral across social media platforms. On March 14th, several schools across the country shared images of their students walking up to others and working to stop bullying. Others on social media were quick to point out the dangers of the Walk Up movement. Not only was it too naive and simple a solution to a complex problem, but it worked to invalidate the students protesting by walking out of school. Invalidating the Walk OUT movement sends a message to the future leaders of our country that their voices are not powerful when, in fact, they are.
As the Walk Up movement gained momentum, individuals on social media were quick to share their own stories of the reality of walking up to students and being nice. As a adults, it can sometimes be hard to remember the reality of social situations in junior and senior high school. We work hard in our later years to forget earlier memories of awkward cafeteria seating arrangements and being bullied by classmates. Luckily, there were adults on social media that reminded us.
One of the first to advocate against the Walk UP movement by sharing their own story was a writer for The Daily Beast. Mandy Velez recounts to her readers a story of walking up to one of the outcasts at her school. She was fifteen and the experience did not go as planned. The outcast student, a boy, asked her out. When Velez declined, he told her that he would shoot her. Various other posts on social media echo Velez and her story, proving that it is not as easy as it sounds to just spread kindness.
Another social media post shared the negative effects of the Walk Up movement from the opposite perspective: the outcast. This former student tells of an experience being “reverse bullied” by the student spreading kindness. Constantly, the “outcast” was asked if she would shoot up the school. The student working to be kind even asked if she would be spared “since I have been nice to you.” The former “outcast” ended her social media post by explaining that she was just a quiet kid with social anxiety and that she just wanted to be left alone. The author of the (now) viral post explains that the Walk UP movement towards kindness only was effective in heightening her social anxiety at school – not making her feel more welcome and comfortable.
Making students feel that they are directly responsible for school shootings based on how nice they act to their peers is not a healthy message to give to kids. Students must be reassured that school shootings occur because of various factors outside of their control, such as lax gun laws, mental health issues, and security around campus. It is entirely possible that students who do go out of their way to be kind to others may feel guilt following a school shooting because they have been told they have the power to stop it from happening. Studies already show that students that survive a shooting on their campus suffer from PTSD – we do not need to add levels of guilt to this.
One of the more dangerous factors that comes out of the Walk UP movement is that it invalidates the voices of students. As a result of increasing incidents of school shootings and gun violence on campus, students across the country are becoming more and more afraid for their safety while in school. Statistics say that they should be. However, the message that the Walk UP movement sends is one of silence: go back to class and be nice to students. Stop bullying and you won’t get shot. Students are not buying into this rhetoric as a viable solution to their fears.
Students, and adults that support them, are calling the Walk UP not OUT movement what it is: a form of victim blaming. Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, explains that the movement is “another way for [adults] to deflect responsibilities [and] it is not our children’s responsibility to protect themselves from gun violence. It is ours.” These students are taking a stand because they feel that they are not getting the support that they need from adults. By victim blaming, the movement started by Katsetos is only fueling their anger at adults. Can we blame them?