2006- One day, during my freshmen year of high school, after the bell rang alerting us to move to our next class, a group of kids in my biology class laughed behind me as I gathered my binder and backpack. I began to walk out of the classroom but stopped to turn around with a confused look on my face.
“WHAT!?” One of the boys aggressively barked, a super senior I might add. The group broke out into laughter again.
I quickly whipped my head around and kept walking.
Before I could reach the threshold, a girl from the group said “You better be nice to her, she’s going to be the one that shoots up the school!”
I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, but instead, I shuffled away to my next class.
2009- During my senior year, the valedictorian of our graduating class, who sat directly in front of me during AP Biology, decided to turn around and ask me: “why do you hate everyone?”
I sat there perplexed, we had really never spoken before. We shared three classes together, yet he had not even noticed I was in each one.
I stared blankly and asked, “why do you think I hate everyone?”
Him: *shrugs* I don’t know, you don’t talk to anyone
Me: I don’t hate anyone. You do not know me, this is the first time you are even talking to me. *Rolls eyes, continue to read a book*
Him: *As he turns around* You’re right, I’m sorry.
During my four years of high school, I barely had friends. I was consistently on the honor roll, I was inducted into the National Honor Society, I was a part of the short-lived STEM club, and I was a part of the Latin Culture Club. Heck, I even tried cheerleading for a week.
I sat alone in the cafeteria and library frequently and made friends with books rather than my peers. I was okay with being alone and having no friends. I was definitely a nerd, but I was not a future threat.
Meanwhile, I was bullied and my classmates continued to project these unjustified feelings and notions onto me without an attempt at getting to know me.
When I finally worked up the nerve to tell the assistant principal, he basically told me kids will be kids.
I was a “walk up” kid, before the idea of “walking up” was really a thing. My classmates would pretend to form friendships only to laugh at me with their real friends. Teachers would try to push me to be more social or get me to change in some way.
I just wanted to be invisible and that seemed to cause more attention. I only felt more dread and anxiety because of it and I spent most days just going to sleep after school because I would be so emotionally and mentally drained.
I am quickly approaching 10 years since I graduated high school and these events, and more, still play in my mind.
#WalkUpNotOut was birthed in response to school children, around the United States, advocating for themselves and marching to combat gun violence. Apparently, instead of walking out of school, one should instead walk up to a kid who sits alone or walk up and be nice. I am not the first to say it, but the ideology of strictly “Walking up” is problematic for many reasons.
For one, It relinquishes accountability from school administrators, institutions, and policymakers and places the onus on kids to defend themselves.
Walk up’s are a smokescreen distracting the conversation away from gun violence and gun reform.
It also simultaneously continues to cloud the conversation around mental health. The statistic now is 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have some form of mental illness, that is nearly 44 million people. If that is the case, why does mental health only receive national attention when a shooting happens? Would there not be more violent attacks? NOPE! A person with a mental health issue is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. However, mental health never fails to be a convenient scapegoat.
Encouraging a walk up rather than a walkout stifles these students voices when the “adults that know better” complain they are on social media too much or they do not know how to communicate and articulate what is best for them.
I believe another consequence of Walk up’s is that it will have racial implications and strengthen the divide. One, when mass shootings happen, in-school or not, if the perpetrator is White, they are automatically given the benefit of the doubt and they are cloaked with having a mental illness. On top of that, their crime does not affect the White population’s “reputation”. Yet, if the perpetrator is a person of color, the belief is that they are inherently violent. Of course, a Black, Middle Eastern, or Latinx person did this, it is in their make, they are ticking time bombs. Historically, and you do not have to look that far, school shootings have been committed by White males. I think walk up’s add another layer of unrealistic, perpetuated White male innocence and enforce the ideology that kids of color are uncontrollable and threatening.
Second, I think because walk up’s will focus on White children, signs of bullying and mental health issues will be ignored in youths of color.
I do also want to add there is a sexist element as well. Girls are expected to be naturally kind and caring to everyone. While for boys, it is more understanding to be rough and cold. So not only is more responsibility and blame placed on the students as a whole, the female students will most likely carry the brunt of it.
Regardless, children should always pay attention to their surroundings, but they should not have to be hyper-vigilant and fear that any day could be their day because they did not invite that one kid to a party. The quiet kids should not have to bear the burden of being under a magnifying glass or fear being misidentified as “the one”.
Much like everything else in the U.S. apparently, safety is not a basic human right. Instead of doing what can be done to ensure the safety and care of every inhabitant, they would just rather sell it to the highest bidder. Truthfully, our lives are just not as profitable as firearms.
Definitely, teach your kids to be decent human beings that feel comfortable with communicating their feelings and being kind to others. Even more important, make sure you are a decent adult. Do not yell at them or downplay their concerns when they have found a positive way to express themselves because no one else seems to be listening.
Nothing in this world is an easy fix; feigned kindness is not cure-all. Public health issues often have more than one culprit and more than one answer.
Today March For Our Lives demonstrations will take place across the U.S. Will this incite drastic change? I do not know. But I do know I am so proud of all the participants doing what they feel is right to have their voices heard.