American University Welcomes the Parkland Students for a Discussion on Voting, Gun Control, and Activism

Oct. 11, 2018

David Hogg, along with fellow Parkland survivors Samantha Fuentes and Jaclyn Corin, speak to the AU community about voting, gun law reform, and mobilizing for change.
David Hogg, with fellow Parkland survivors Samantha Fuentes and Jaclyn Corin, discuss voting, gun law reform, and mobilizing for change.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9 American University welcomed to campus David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, and Samantha Fuentes  –  survivors of the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – as part of the annual Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy and Social Justice Symposium.  

Using their platform to promote positive change in the areas of gun law reform and voter registration, the Parkland students took the Bender Arena stage to discuss voting, gun control, and activism during the event, which was presented by the American University Student Government’s Kennedy Political Union (KPU) and co-sponsored by the School of Education (SOE) and American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL).

“The Kennedy Political Union was incredibly proud to partner with the School of Education and Washington College of Law on this amazing event,” said KPU Director Yazan Hanouneh, who organized the symposium. “The Parkland students embody the energy and passion that our generation of students cares most about. It's not every day that students get to hear from leaders younger than them, but it just goes to show that you're never too young to have an impact.”

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AUWCL Dean Camille Nelson, center, with AU President Sylvia M. Burwell and KPU Director Yazan Hanouneh.

The annual symposium celebrates the life of passionate advocate and AU alum Gerstel, SOE ’00, by leveraging the expertise of the AU faculty and distinguished guest speakers to facilitate discussions and new ideas that remedy education disparities and inequities across communities.

“[Larissa Gerstel], like our speakers tonight, cared deeply about social justice because she used her life’s work as a teacher to prove that activism, education and advocacy for the next generation can change our society for the better,” said AU President Sylvia M. Burwell, addressing the crowd of over 1,200 members of the AU community before introducing AUWCL Dean Camille Nelson and SOE Dean Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy

Since the mass shooting in Parkland, Hogg’s activism has taken him across the nation, where he meets with diverse communities and families impacted by gun violence to discuss gun safety and politics surrounding the issue. A co-founder of March For Our Lives, Hogg spoke about the power young people can have when they mobilize.

“The biggest danger to our generation, and every generation that has come before and will follow, is our own futility,” Hogg said. “It’s time to put an end to that and realize that we can, as individuals, make this change.”

Jaclyn Corin discusses the importance of young people getting to the polls this November.
Jaclyn Corin discusses the importance of young people getting to the polls this November.

Corin, who currently serves as senior class president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was changed forever by the shooting that killed 17 of her classmates and teachers. Less than a week after the shooting, she led 100 of her classmates on a lobbying trip to the Florida state capital before taking a lead role in the March For Our Lives movement, with the mission to get more young people to the polls.

“Far too often, we let people in power choose what happens in our lives,” Corin said, urging her generation to vote and to teach the next generation about political engagement. “It’s our civic responsibility to be involved.”

Among those injured during that horrific day in Parkland was Fuentes, who has bullet shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her right eye, and continues to deal with symptoms of PTSD today. Her goal, Fuentes said, is to ensure no child or adult becomes another victim of senseless and preventable gun violence.

The Parkland students spend time and take photos with the AU community after the event.
The Parkland students spend time and take photos with the AU community after the event.

“I don’t want anyone to feel as afraid as I did that day,” Fuentes said, explaining how she tells her story in hopes of “switching the rhetoric from victim to survivor, and making sure people know that these voices, that are so often silenced by the media and society and so often are told they are nothing but a statistic, are a person and someone that we can relate to.”

“I am inspired every day by the energy, enthusiasm, and advocacy of our young leaders like David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, and Samantha Fuentes,” Dean Nelson said. “They are part of an exceptionally informed and engaged generation who are turning ideas into action across the world.”

During the Q & A session, Dean Holcomb-McCoy posed a few questions from the SOE students to the Parkland survivors, including if they are in favor of arming teachers in the classroom.  

“There’s a common argument that a good guy with a gun will always stop a bad guy with a gun – that’s someone that doesn’t know their research,” Corin said. “Instead of putting all of our money into getting more security, arming our teachers, and putting metal detectors in our schools, we need to focus more on funding mental healthcare in schools.”

KPU will next welcome former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the AU campus during All-American Weekend on Friday Oct. 19.