Letter From L.A.

Kids’ Hopes

By Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

Some of the most eloquent voices heard in the aftermath of mass shootings are those of high school students. Just as hopeful is their determination to make the political system respond. They believe the political process can work.

 

University campuses haven’t been free of political protest for decades, if not longer. Neither have high schools. In fact, February 2018 may be remembered as a time when kids too young to vote lectured the nation about political responsibility.

Etched in many minds are images of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who responded to the massacre of 14 students and three staff members with demonstrations and organized walkouts. In a political system that enshrines the rights of assembly, speech and protest, 16- and 17-year-olds channeled their outrage and fear for their lives into political expression. And their peers joined them. The Jesuit Schools Network noted that students at 32 Jesuit high schools conducted walkouts. (Faculty, staff and students held a sympathy walkout at LMU.)

Fifty years ago, also a time of turmoil, Mexican American students led walkouts in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Known as the East L.A. Walkouts, the protests highlighted substandard education conditions in public high schools. The politically charged demonstrations led to changes that rippled through LAUSD and higher education in Southern California.

Five years earlier, Birmingham, Alabama, became a national symbol of the civil rights movement. Hundreds of students who were trained in nonviolent protest by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were attacked with firehoses, threatened with police dogs and jailed in protests designed to desegregate the city’s public facilities.

By late February 2018, questions arose about whether students who had been disciplined by their high school for leading or joining protests had jeopardized their acceptance to college. Twenty-six of the 28 U.S. Jesuit universities made statements in response. At LMU, that statement read: “In the Jesuit tradition of living as women and men for and with others, Loyola Marymount University commends students who exercise their freedom of expression through peaceful activism and protest. … LMU will not penalize applicants nor admitted students who are disciplined by their high school when they engage in peaceful, lawful protest and activism.”

If we look to children for hope — and we do — then perhaps some exists in the form of young people who still turn to the political system for solutions.

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch is editor of LMU Magazine. You can read other writings of his at his Editor’s Blog Follow him on Twitter @jwlmageditor.