By: Genevieve Husak and Clayton Covington
In the wake of yet another mass shooting, we as Americans find ourselves divided once more over the issue of guns. Rather than ignore yet another tragedy of negligence, students have taken to the streets and the headlines to try and bring needed change. But when rights collide, there will be conflict, as a solution supported by one group seems to infringe on the freedom of another. Yet in such terrible tragedies, there will always be a great opportunity – a chance for us to come together, discuss our differences, and push for needed change in the interest of society at large.
Last Sunday, the Institute of Politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill went through great effort to organize a “reverse town hall” – an opportunity for student citizens to discuss polarizing issues for an audience of NC State Legislatures. The panel was made up entirely of students from colleges and high schools across North Carolina, all joined together by a common desire to voice how they believe we can end gun violence in NC. This group of students truly reflected the diversity in thought and experience within North Carolina, from cities as large as Charlotte and Raleigh to towns as small as Laurinburg. It included those who have traveled and lived across the world and those who have never left the US.
Among these students were the three of us from Lake Norman Charter – Clayton Covington, Genevieve Husak, and Janais Phillips. We arrived at the massive UNC Campus, unsure of what – or who – to expect. None of us had ever been on a panel before, and the new experience was as exciting as it was daunting. When we first arrived, we were warmly welcomed and soon introduced to the other panelists, many of whom were the heads of political organizations at their respective schools. We paired off and did team-building activities so we could learn to respect and appreciate one another before politics can intervene. They only informed us after that they actually paired opposing opinions.
After, we went to a lecture dedicated to the debate – most of all to understand the types of guns that we hear about so often in the news. The lecture sparked questions and dialogue between the panelists and overall left everyone better-informed. We then rested and calmed our nerves before the panel opened. We slowly started to see the media and politicians pour in, all of whom excited for what was to come.
It was time to begin – we stood on stage with the bright lights above as the audience clapped below, taking our seats as we prepared ourselves mentally for the questions to come. The discussion lasted well over an hour, with questions over whether guns should be allowed in schools, what steps the legislature could take to prevent violence in the future, and much more. While we spoke of specific issues and societal problems, the discussion itself was the strongest message of all – of the power of youth to speak to societal issues, and most of all, to do so respectfully. While many of our views were in conflict with one another, we, the students, were not. We were dedicated to a civil and constructive dialogue, one that hopefully will contribute to bringing progress that all can agree with. This will be the most important message going forward in our country – that despite our political divisiveness, we must come together to understand one another. Our nation finds itself at political extremes, but we need not let our extreme opinions get in the way of what is most important: helping our fellow citizens – all of them, even if we disagree on how to do so.