Parkland survivor shares advice with SUNY Fredonia students
How to be the change
“College campuses are the root of change,” said activist and advocate Cameron Kasky to a packed King Concert Hall on Wednesday afternoon. An 18-year-old freshman at Columbia University, Kasky has much in common with the SUNY Fredonia students who attended his presentation “Be the Change: Tools for a Movement.” However, few, if any, could relate to the life-changing experience that set him on the path for activism, a path which brought him to SUNY Fredonia as the 2019-2020 Maytum Convocation Lecturer and Williams Visiting Professor.
On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walked onto the Parkland, Florida campus with a semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines and killed 14 students and three faculty members and injured 17 more. Now known as the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, the events inspired Kasky and several of his classmates to speak out against gun legislation and found the #NeverAgain gun-control movement. In Washington, D.C., they organized March for Our Lives, one of the largest public demonstrations in history, and Kasky has since been interviewed on CNN, Fox News and other major news outlets.
Now a busy college student, Kasky continues to inspire change, and on Wednesday, he shared the many lessons he has learned on his journey of healing and activism. Following Kasky’s opening remarks, Dr. Cedric Howard, vice president for Student Affairs at SUNY Fredonia, engaged him in a “fireside” conversation comprised of questions gathered from students and staff during the first three weeks of the semester.
Howard shared a question with Kasky regarding his journey since the weeks following the shooting to today. “I was a 17-year-old kid and my biggest problems used to be if I would be on time for rehearsal or if I should go back to baseball,” Kasky said.
“…Those first two or three weeks was all adrenaline. … Imagine going to school and walking out knowing 17 people who walked in here today are going to be brought out in bags, and a couple hundred kids will walk out of school with blood all over their shoes — blood of people they knew, too. We didn’t know how to handle that, so what we did was we went out and said, ‘Let’s detach from this and let’s look at it objectively and say here’s what we think we could do to stop this.'”
Kasky noted the importance of the grieving process and self-care. “It’s sad when people think they owe the world their whole lives,” he reflected. “You need to take care of yourself because if you lose you, the world loses you, and the world is losing something special and important.”
Howard shared a question from another student who is about to begin student teaching and asked how to foster a safe classroom environment. Kasky noted the enormity of the task, but offered practical advice, such as being aware of one’s surrounding and watching for patterns in potentially dangerous individuals.
“One kid who everybody in school had been saying for years is going to act violently surprised us all by acting violently,” Kasky said, adding that the shooter had been known to carve swastikas into desks and bring bullets and knives into school.
“One of the biggest trends you see with these people who commit mass acts of violence, most of whom are males, is violence against women,” Kasky noted. “A big way to see if a male is going to be violent towards other human beings is the way they look at, talk about and treat women.”
Howard asked Kasky to share his most useful strategies as an advocate. “Being informed is easier than ever,” Kasky noted. “…But people don’t do a simple Google search of their own state’s gun laws. … That’s more important than you think it is. Being informed is easier than ever, and yet I feel as though people are less informed than ever because people think that reading Twitter makes you informed.”
Kasky warned against “slack-tivism,” his term for those who think sharing a few words on Twitter is enough to effect real change. “Use the resources you have to gain an understanding of what you’re dealing with,” Kasky said. “When you’re talking to a lawmaker and you’re actually able to cite laws, they listen to you more. Your emotions are important; they’re great for activism. They’re fuel, and they make you human, but they’re not it. You can’t just do it (activism) on emotion. … You need to make the effort to learn about what you’re talking about.”