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Heightened Security Doesn’t Increase Students’ Feelings of Safety, PSJ Survey Finds

Sandy Hook. Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Umpqua. Marysville. Red Lake. Northern Illinois. Oikos. Santa Monica. Santa Fe. West Nickel. Columbine. Over the past two decades, school shootings have become an all-too-common tragedy. In 2022, such shootings have happened at a rate of nearly one per week, leaving 83 people killed or
wounded as a result. In May, a mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas raised questions yet again about what school districts and lawmakers
should do in response.

This summer, the Princeton Summer Journal sent detailed questions to thirty-two school districts seeking to understand what changes these districts have in place to prevent school shootings and protect students’ physical and mental well-being. The survey used by PSJ also asked district administrators to share what new procedures or policies they were considering, specifically in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 fourth graders and two teachers dead.

PSJ reporters surveyed the principals of individual schools, school-security directors, and superintendents of entire school districts. These institutions spanned the country, from major cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, to rural Oregon, the central valley of California, and across the Southwest and South regions. Officials from 17 schools or districts responded to some or all of PSJ’s questions. Nearly every institution contacted by PSJ mentioned using enhanced security measures, including hiring more security officers, using metal detectors and cameras, and more training for students and teachers to identify potential shooters or respond to active threats. Only
a handful of institutions mentioned mental-health programs to respond to the school shooting crisis.

PSJ also surveyed twenty-eight students about their views on school safety and violence prevention. Most of the students said they felt safe in their schools. More than half of them voiced that their school and district had not clearly explained what to do in case of an active shooter on school grounds. Mostly, though, the students interviewed by PSJ said they recognized the larger issue of school shootings and lived with a fear that their school could be the site of a tragedy, the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook, or Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“At some point in my life, I used to consider school my safe space that protects me from all the dangers in the world,” said Maria Cuevas, 18, a high school student in New York City. “However, due to recent events in the world, as much as I would love to say that I do feel safe at school, I would be lying to myself.” If there was an overarching theme in the responses from school leaders and administrators about steps taken to prevent
future shootings, it was an emphasis on security measures such as security cameras, metal detectors, staffed entry and exit locations, and heightened screening of visitors. In most districts, these measures included hiring school-security officers; in a few cases, school officials said they had partnerships with local law enforcement agencies.

Dr. Randy Shearouse, superintendent of the Limestone County School District in Athens, Alabama, said his district “partners” with the county sheriff’s department to “provide resource officers at each of our schools.” Dr. Tyrone Weeks, superintendent of
Dearborn Heights Public Schools in southeast Michigan, said his district “has a contractual partnership with the Dearborn Heights Police Department in which a police liaison officer is assigned to support the district’s six schools, Board of Education Office, and support staff buildings.” Peter Varela, principal of South Brunswick High School in central New Jersey, said his school has “security and police present at SBHS every day” who are “retired law enforcement officers.”

Bernard Watson, director of community relations for the school system in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta, said the county’s schools have their own police force, employing ninety-eight officers with plans to hire more. “Our officers’ mission isn’t just
to protect students and staff,” Watson said. “They are dedicated to developing real relationships with students, creating an environment of mutual trust which helps prevent problems before they happen.” School officials and administrators also said they had sought out local and national law enforcement agencies as they updated their safety policies.

Most institutions surveyed by PSJ declined to share their active-shooter protocols for security reasons. When asked how often they reviewed and updated their school-safety policies, many respondents said they did so every year, as required by law in certain states. Scott Walsh, principal of Multicultural High School in Philadelphia, said Pennsylvania law requires school systems to submit new safety plans to the state every year by July 1. PSJ specifically asked school leaders and administrators to explain what changes they were considering or had already made since the Uvalde mass shooting in late May. According to law enforcement, the alleged shooter in Uvalde gained access to Robb Elementary through several faulty or insecure doors at the school. Not surprisingly, several institutions said their newest safety policies focused on securing the entrances and exits at their schools. Scott Walsh, the Philadelphia principal, said his high school had “replaced all classroom doors this summer and ensured that every door can lock from the inside.” He added that each room in the school had the room number posted inside and outside if a staff member needed to call 911 and alert emergency responders to their exact location.

Just four of the institutions that completed PSJ’s survey listed mental-health support services or interventions as part of their school safety plans. Weeks, head of Dearborn Heights Public Schools, said his district has partnerships with a nearby hospital system to “provide additional mental health professionals to our schools to serve as yet another layer of prevention.” Weeks added that Dearborn was developing a new “threat assessment protocol” to train school employees “to identify potential behaviors of concern to ensure that potential concerning behaviors are addressed and curtailed before they can be actualized on school grounds.”

The students interviewed by PSJ expressed a diverse set of views about the efficacy of their school’s safety policies, how safe they feel in school, and what it feels like to be a student in a time when shootings on school campuses occur with such frequency. Most students said they were familiar with their school’s active-shooter protocol and had gone through rapid-response drills on school grounds. Multiple students pointed to increased security measures as a reason they felt safer in their school. “I guess [I feel safe at school] because of the metal detectors, but if we didn’t have them, the adults in our school would not do well protecting us,” said Samarah, 16, a student in New York City.

A small percentage of students who answered the survey expressed concerns about their own safety and their school’s apparent lack of planning for a possible shooting. Olivia, a 17-year-old student in Brooklyn, said she felt her school made it too easy for strangers to enter the building and that the school’s active-shooter protocol was woefully insufficient. “My school’s soft and hard lockdown protocol is based on hiding and hoping that we won’t be found,” she said. “I believe that we need to change these protocols for present-day situations.”
Even if they didn’t feel unsafe in their own schools, many students said they supported new laws or restrictions on gun ownership to prevent future shootings. Several students, for instance, called for raising
the legal age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 in all states, or restricting the number of weapons an individual can purchase in a specific period of time.

Yet no matter how many metal detectors or security officers their school had, no matter how many active-shooter drills they had experienced, some students said they could not escape the sense that their school could still be targeted and that going to school each day came with a degree of risk. “I don’t think I’ll feel safe,” said Bang, 17, a student in Pennsauken, New Jersey, “no matter how much protocol the school has prepared, when I’m aware of the lack of gun control and the many past shootings that have happened.

Survey Finds Few Schools Adapt To BLM

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal. The project was led by Ryleigh Mae Emmert, Synai Ferrell, Roxana Martínez, Mmachukwu Osisioma, and Lewis Stahl.

Thomas Stone High School is located about twenty-five miles south-east of Washington, D.C., in Charles County, Md. Roughly 1,100 students are enrolled there, most of them African-American. After nationwide Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the spring of 2020, following a spate of high-profile police killings of African-Americans, students and faculty at Thomas Stone wondered how the school would address themes of racial injustice. “I have had three teachers talk about race in my whole experience at Thomas Stone: one world history teacher, one chorus teacher, and one English teacher,” said Tah’Kiyah Coleman, 17, a 12th grader at Thomas Stone, in an interview with the Princeton Summer Journal. “I do think they sugarcoat things to make it seem that they are not as racially unjust as they are,” she added. Coleman was addressing a question countless others would pose around the country: Would schools continue teaching the same curriculums, or make changes inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement?

At Thomas Stone, it turned out, nothing much changed. “We were in the virtual environment and were cautioned about teaching certain things, because students were at home and parent/guardians could hear what was being discussed and could take them out of context,” Niyati Green, an English teacher at Thomas Stone, told the PSJ. “I was not discouraged, but was warned that this virtual platform was not the best time to push the envelope .” Ultimately, Thomas Stone’s principal confirmed, no school-wide curriculum changes were implemented, though an “educational equity” task force was created in October 2020 to provide students with “essential academic, social, emotional and economic resources.” 

This summer, the PSJ sent survey questions to 42 high schools or school districts across the country to form a picture of how American schools are addressing race in history, literature, and other subjects. The institutions surveyed ranged from a large public school in Brooklyn, N.Y. to a charter school in Houston, Texas, to a small high school in rural western Tennessee. Representatives from 17 schools or districts replied. The schools that refused to answer may have done so out of caution, as race in the classroom has recently become a third-rail in American politics. In response to the uprisings of 2020, countless schools around the country began to assign recent texts about the history and legacy of American racism, such as The New York Times’s “1619 Project,” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” In response, according to the education site Chalk-beat, 28 mostly conservative-leaning states have proposed or passed legislation this year seeking to restrict the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a contested school of thought that centers the teaching of structural or systemic racism.

Among the schools surveyed by the PSJ, however, change was the exception: Just four reported that courses had been added or altered to address topics central to the Black Lives Matter movement. In Philadelphia, a charter school added a course called “Intro to Criminal Justice.” In Phoenix, a large school district offered three new courses exploring African-American, Mexican-American, and Native American perspectives. In the northern California city of Brentwood, an African-American history class was added. In a Brownsville, Texas charter school, an eighth grade social studies class was altered to incorporate themes of social justice.

There are varying reasons other schools did not make changes to classroom instruction. Several majority-minority charter schools argued they had been founded on a mission of inclusivity and didn’t require significant changes. Traditional public schools in Massachusetts and Maine had diversified their syllabi in the years running up to 2020. A school in Tennessee, meanwhile, responded that it has been hamstrung from making changes by the recent statewide ban on Critical Race Theory. Respondents from other school districts cited bureaucracy or budgetary limitations.

Nikolai Vitti, Detroit’s public schools superintendent, was one of the respondents who felt his school district was ahead of the curve on race-conscious learning, before the protests of 2020. “Our district has always been very intentional in teaching history from multiple perspectives” and elevating “the voices of those who have been most marginalized and oppressed,” he told the PSJ. Antonio Cano, the principal of La Joya High School, located in south Texas, said there had been no curriculum changes at his school, but added, “I am sure if students were to start a conversation relating to race, protests, or Critical Race Theory, our teachers will make time to acknowledge their questions and have a discussion within the class.” (This summer, Texas passed a bill seeking to ban elements of Critical Race Theory in public schools.)  

At Bioscience High School in Phoenix, Ariz., teachers have recently begun diversifying the curriculum by assigning reading materials such as “Just Mercy,” lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of fighting wrongful convictions and cruel prison sentences, or Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” about the author’s upbringing in apartheid South Africa. Holly Batsell, the school’s principal, worries that Arizona’s own recent bill restricting certain teachings around race—which fines school districts $5,000 per violation—will impede their efforts. But it is unclear if such books would run afoul of the state’s new laws, which do not address which reading materials may be assigned. More narrowly, the bill attempts to ban the teaching that any one person, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, or sex, is “inherently superior” or “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive,” among other provisions. (So-called anti-CRT laws are likely to face legal challenges.) 

Teachers or administrators at the vast majority of the schools surveyed seemed comfortable with race-conscious pedagogy. But it was generally individual teachers, rather than districts, who had the flexibility to introduce new reading materials in the classroom. “As we returned to school after the summer of 2020, at least in my high school, to my dismay, there was little mention of race whatsoever,” said Dave Brooks, an AP Language and Composition teacher at Lewiston High School in Maine, where the majority of students are caucuasian.

Still, Brooks didn’t shy away from assigning texts about the uglier facets of U.S. his-tory, something he said students responded well to. “The idea that white students are so fragile that they can’t bear the uncomfortable feelings that surface when they find out the truth about redlining, mass incarceration, Christopher Columbus, or anti-Black stereotypes in the media is not only ridiculous, but dangerous,” he said. “Instead, they often express gratitude for discussing things honestly and openly.” 

The PSJ’s questions about Critical Race Theory generated mixed responses. Perhaps because there is disagreement about what the once-obscure academic term means, even some progressive educators seemed hesitant to be associated with it. Joseph Peters, who teaches AP History at Midwood High School in New York City, seemed to regard the term as an epithet more than anything else. “Critical Race Theory is a label that people are using in bad faith to try and push a sanitized view of American history,” he told the PSJ. “But American history is messy. It hasn’t been one long march towards progress and prosperity for all Americans.” However schools wind up addressing race in America, it is hard to argue that even the most well-intentioned schools won’t continue to reflect—even symbolically — the country’s complex legacies of injustice.

Thomas Stone, the namesake of the high school in Maryland, is best known as a signer of the Declaration of Independence , and a member of Mary-land’s Senate. He also presided over a plantation, on which he kept roughly 25 enslaved people in servitude. “In my high school career, most of what I read was from the European male view, and I saw how they viewed their place and existence in the world,” said Green, the English Teacher at Thomas Stone. “That was the only perspective I got. It is important to teach various perspectives with Eurocentric views, but also marginalized views.”

Self-Styled ‘Outsider’ Seeks To Shake Up Congressional Race

Gregg Betts

By Amanda Renae Chapa and Nahid Hassan
Sullivan City, Texas and Upper Darby, Pa.

Editor’s Note: This piece was reported and written before the Aug. 3 primary. Greg Betts was defeated in that race by Allison Russo.

On Aug. 3, a special election for Ohio’s 15th Con-gressional District will be held to replace former Re-publican Rep. Steve Stivers, who resigned in May. Re-publicans hope that they can keep the seat, as they have since 2010. But they face competition from an unlikely challenger: Demo-crat Greg Betts, a self-titled “political outsider.” Betts, who served for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, is a retired colonel with ex-perience as a military and government policymaker.

Although the political newcomer is aware of the challenges he faces running in a Republican stronghold, he said that as a military lo-gistics expert, he has had an immense amount of experi-ence running the programs, systems and processes en-compassing the federal gov-ernment. When he retired from the Army early this year, he knew he wanted to continue in a governmental role because of his love for serving people. 

His campaign for the seat also comes at an un-likely time. Betts was herded into the race when Stivers stepped down to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Though Betts has never held elected office, he said he has the background necessary to “hit the ground running as a legislator.”

Betts reiterated that past gerrymandering makes it difficult for Democrats to win the district. “Only Republicans have won the gerrymandered Republican districts, and only Democrats have won the select Democrat districts,” he said. He noted that the partisan-ship of modern politics does little to mitigate the issue, but did not specify any ex-plicit plans to overcome the problem. His plat-forms take a populist Democratic approach, with promises to support a $15 minimum wage, univer-sal health care and infrastruc-ture reform—as well as in-creased funds for veterans. “I know full well just how imperative it is that we honor our sacred ob-ligation to care for them both during and after their service to the people of the United States,” he says on his website. This sentiment comes from Betts’s own history serving in the military. 

While his ideas for change may appeal to left-leaning voters, his plans lack detail. 

When asked to describe how he would regulate mar-ijuana usage, he remained ambiguous. “The nice part about it is that we’ll be able to process it,” he said, draw-ing comparisons to how the government regulates alco-hol usage. He suggested tax-ing marijuana to fund health care and other necessities but remains vague about the spe-cific allocation of potential new funds.

Betts faces fierce com-petition in Republ ic a n Mike Carey, who secured an endorse-ment from former Presi-dent Donald Trump, and remains the leading candidate. Despite his uphill bat-tle he has remained firm in his desire to make positive change. His underdog campaign shows a man vying to help others, and with it, the change he has promised to bring change to Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. 

Year After Floyd, Police Reform Advocates Seek Shared Ground

By Angie Tangarife
West New York, N.J.

Over the last year, protests and movements regarding police reforms have spiked. The outrage over the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement was expressed through protests, writings, and petitions. Victims like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Daunte Wright sparked a revolt against police bru-tality. 

Views of law enforcement vary greatly. Some believe police are necessary, others advocate for the complete abolition of law enforcement. However, there is common ground where some can agree: that law enforcement is not what it should be. On one hand, saying the police sys-tem is not what it should be can mean we need a system like this to exist, but the current organization is not ideal. On the other hand, this statement can also argue for police abolition.

These are the sides in which Kevin Lawrence, executive director of TMPA (Texas Municipal Police As-sociation), and Gina Feliz, rising senior at Princeton University and president of SPEAR (Students for Police Education Abolition and Reform), fall. Each brings their unique  opinions to the topic of police violence.  

Kevin Lawrence has served as a law enforcement officer for 22 years. Throughout his career he served as the Treasurer and President of  TMPA, and was also the Deputy  Executive Director from 2000 to  2010, now Executive Director of the  TMPA. He also worked with many  police departments. Lawrence has  been an involved officer, and uses his experiences to share his opinion.  Gina Feliz is Co-President of SPEAR which concentrates on anti-carceral  activism, police abolition, and law  enforcement reforms. SPEAR’s take  on police abolition is as Feliz states,  “what it sounds like: getting rid of  the police.” Adding that “as [they] exist now, there is no way to dis-entangle policing as an institution  from systemic historical racism.”  Feliz has been part of SPEAR for 3 years. She states that before college,  she never engaged in criminal justice, although she was heavily politically involved and aware. Currently  at Princeton, she is studying public  policy and has learned about the a harms of prison and policing, driving her to become the radical police abolitionist she is. 

Even with these two extreme beliefs, and how deeply involved each individual is with the cause they support, there is common ground. 

When asked about Black Lives Matter, Lawrence has an astonish-ing recall on his reaction to the murder of George Floyd. It was a normal evening sitting down in his bedroom. In the tranquility of his home, he was interrupted by his wife. Sounding dis-turbed, she told him to “watch this video,” Lawrence recalled. The video showed several officers kneeling on George Floyd. Lawrence’s wife, a former probation officer, stated that “it’s not like she has never seen this type of stuff before.” The video captures the mo-ment Floyd’s life is taken by Officer Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 sec-onds. The start of the video seemed common to Lawrence; the kneel-ing technique is taught to officers to deal with individuals resisting arrest. But Lawrence became worried at the kneeling on Floyd’s body. As if there, he began talking to the phone. “OK, it’s time to get up. It’s time to move to the next phase,” Lawrence said, then words became yells of desperation as a fellow officer. He could not comprehend the lack of care the officers had for Floyd. Lawrence stated “look at what you’re doing to that man on the ground, but think what you are doing to nine hundred thousand other law en-forcement officers across this country… they’re all gonna be judged based off what you’re doing right now.”

The video was disturbing to thousands and went viral on social media. Similarly, Feliz was overwhelmed by the news. She made the de-cision to not watch the video nor share its con-tent. Lounging at her house, post-finals, in the middle of the pandemic, she found out about the incident through social media. The feeling of hopelessness drove her to contact a former SPEAR member and friend to organize events as well. 

Two individuals with opposite views on law enforcement, yet have similar reactions. The sudden news was like a blow to the stomach, as each realized law enforcement was not acting as it should. Over this, both advocates shared common ground.

DREAMers Band Together To Build Awareness, Find Allies

United We Dream

By Yarlin Morales
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Everyone wants the American Dream, whether they want to admit it or not. “DREAMers,” undocu-mented Americans who came to the United States before turning 17 and have legal protections under  the Deferred Action for Child-hood Arrivals (DACA) program, have found ways to support each other to achieve their own version of the American Dream through non-for-profit organizations like America’s Voice, United We Dream and Define American.

America’s Voice is an organization whose mission is to put America’s eleven million undocumented immigrants on a full path to citizenship by changing the political climate. Zachary Mueller, a digital communications manager at America’s Voice, says that it aims “to be a front door to the immigrants rights movement for folks that may or may not have any personal connections to immigrants.” To do this, he says America’s Voice tries “to drown a lot of the policy stuff and a lot of the confusing language that  can tend to get into the weeds.” Their main goal is to help stop xenophobic language before it starts, making it easier for immi-grants to tell their stories. With over 800,000 members, United We Dream is the largest immigrant  youth-led network in the country, according to José Muñoz, the organization’s national communications manager. The organization aims to ensure that the voices of their members, who are directly impacted by immigration policy, are heard across the media by pitching stories to reporters, training members, and  tracking the news. 

Some DREAMers have created chapters of orga-nizations in universities to help students covered by DACA. Marco Gonza-lez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, both recent Duke University graduates, served on the board of their campus’s Define America chapter. They were freshmen when then-President Trump dismantled DACA on September 5, 2017—a date Arellano says he will never forget. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

Define American’s “mission is to change the narra-tive of immigration in the United States, both legal and undocumented,” says Gonzalez. Through informing the Duke student body, they were able to create better allies. The group created an Undocumented Awareness Week with edu-cational and social events. They asked students to give up their student ID, “which literally gives them access to every building on cam-pus and allows them to buy food and all those things, [so] they could kind of ex-perience what it meant to be undocumented,” Gonzalez.  DREAMers have gone above and beyond to build awareness and allies. In doing so, they hope to find a pathway to their own American Dream: the dream of citizenship.

Students Aim To ‘Rewrite The Narrative’ About DREAMers

By Joyce Kim
La Cañada, Calif.

On September 5, 2017, a rainy Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, Marco Gonzalez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, then freshman at Duke University, heard the news: DACA would be dismantled.

The Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program left nearly 800,000 “DREAMers”— young people who had entered the country un-lawfully as children—at risk of losing the legal protection granted to them by the program, which allowed them to defer deportation in renewable two-year periods, as well as apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit.

“I remember the date exactly,” Arellano re-called. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

The students started Duke University’s chapter of Define American, an organization that “uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants.” The newly-founded chapter included undocumented and DACA students, TPS (temporary protected status) students, and citizens who were allies. That year, the group lobbied the U.S. Congress to urge their representatives to keep the program.

“I really wanted to have more allies coming into the chapter,” said Gonzalez, who served as co-president of Duke’s chapter. “I think a lot of people, even at Duke, hadn’t met an undocumented person or DACA person. Or maybe they had, but those people that they had encountered throughout life hadn’t told them because they were afraid that they were going to be treated differently. So we took it as our mission to also inform and educate people more on topics re-lated to immigration.” The chapter’s initia-tives included educational and social events, such as dedicating a week to un-documented awareness, or tabling at the plaza on campus and asking students to give up their student ID for a period of time in order to simulate the experience of being undocumented. Gonzalez and Arellano say they received support from Duke’s administration. Days after Trump’s DACA decision, the president of Duke “told us that the institution would be behind us,” said Arellano. The administration funded the chapter’s trips to D.C., gave students access to Duke’s law clinic for individual assistance with renewing their DACA status and alerted students if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was in the area, among other services. They also allowed students who didn’t qualify for work-study to receive grants and financial aid.

Despite Duke’s institutional support of the undocumented, Arellano says not all of the staff at Duke were well versed in the problems facing students like him. When he sought counseling at Duke’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) after his parents had to go back to Mexico, Arrelano recalls, “I remember talking about my experiences and my status, and the person [at CAPS] did not know how to help me. They were like, ‘Oh, why didn’t you just apply for citizenship?’ I think there was a huge limitation during the first half of my experience there.”

Since then, however, Define American’s chapter has done trainings for Duke administrators on how to support undocu-mented students, and Gonzalez and Arellano say that there has been an exponential change for the better. 

Even after all they’ve done, Gonzalez and Arellano don’t plan to stop working to improve conditions for America’s undocumented, whether or not they qualify for DACA.

“I think we need to fight for as many people as we can and rewrite the narrative that you need to be a perfect immigrant in order to belong here,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t stop the fight just because we get our papers.”

As Teens Flock To Online Activism, New Challenges For Mental Health

By Nhi Huynh and Emi Glass
Worcester, Mass. and Kettering, Ohio

Racism has always been prevalent in American society and institutions. In May of 2020, national attention turned to combating police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. The video footage of Floyd’s death, along with the tense political climate associated with the pandemic, sparked some of the largest protests in American history. 

Around the same time, many conservative leaders began to refer to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” despite this being overtly racist rhetoric. Asian-Americans felt the devastating effects of this discrimi-nation, evidenced by a drastic rise in hate crimes. Protests swept the nation again in spring of 2021, in re-sponse to a tragic series of shootings in Atlanta, where six Asian women were killed. 

Due to risks associated with large gatherings during COVID-19, protesters took to both the streets and social media to gather support for a multitude of justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. As these movements gained traction over the past year, young people emerged at the fore-front. Youth organized and led pro-tests in their communities, but their activism didn’t stop there. 

Young people across the country also amplified their voices online, using apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to spread information about issues they care about and en-courage others to take action. Youth especially see the value in sharing their opinions on serious matters on-line and using their digital platforms to inform the masses. 

“Everyone can share what they think and feel. I feel like it has escalated, it has brought more light to issues that wouldn’t have gotten a lot of atten-tion,” said Julia, 17. 

However, as issues like systemic racism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and police violence trend online, teens often report feeling pressured, or seeing others being pressured, into posting about issues they aren’t entirely familiar with. 

Tryphena, 17, recounts feeling pressure from peers to post about a conflict she wasn’t completely edu-cated on. 

“Some of my friends say things in their stories that are like ‘if you don’t post this then it means you don’t care,’ ” she said. “I’m just not sure that I’m the right person to speak out about this right now because I’m just not fully informed.” 

The negative effects of online activism on mental health don’t stop at peer pressure. As conversations surrounding COVID-19 death rates, police brutality, and the Israel-Pales-tine conflict gained widespread at-tention, discussion of tragic events often led to graphic and upsetting images in online spaces, sometimes without any warning. Constant ex-posure to violence and disturbing images, even when it’s online, has been proven to have negative effects on mental and physical wellbeing. Elina, 17, explained how the con-stant exposure to negative news im-pacted her: “When covid started and [the media] were saying all the death rates, it honestly caused me to turn off my phone.”

As the world faces the second year of the pandemic, it’s clear that on-line activism isn’t going anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. Young people will continue to be politically active on social media, which makes it imperative to find a balance between speaking out on important issues and taking care of oneself. With so much of young peo-ple’s lives being spent on the inter-net, it’s necessary to be able to take a break from online responsibilities periodically. In fact, taking breaks from social media when needed has been proven to have positive health impacts, such as improving quality of sleep and reducing anxiety. 

If you begin to feel stressed and fatigued by the onslaught of negative news, taking a break from social media could be a beneficial decision. Implementing time limits on certain apps, turning off notifications, and scheduling time away from screens can all help manage social media-induced stress. 

Regina, 16, considers herself to be an online activist. She shared advice for others her age who feel over-whelmed and stressed by politics on social media. 

“It comes down to your limitations. … It’s OK to realize that you’re going to need time off an app. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.”

Teens Adapt To Rise In Online Activism

By Regina Roberts and Tryphena Awuah
Alexandria, Va. and Columbus, Ohio

Before social media, an activist was of-ten thought of as a protester or as an active participant in an organization. But social media has given all of its users a platform in which to voice their opinions, changing our perception of what an activist is. Instagram infographics have grown increasingly popular as a way to speak out against issues and bring awareness to peers. 

“Within my community, it has become more of a norm to post about issues you feel passionate about,” said Joyce Kim, 17, of La Cañada, Calif. “Personally, I used to be intimidated by activism but the pandemic and Instagram made me realize that you can participate in small ways.” This accessibility is part of the appeal of online activism, which al-lows everyone to readily communicate with their audience. Alexsis Tapia, 16, from River-dale, Md., said that social media activism “combats the stigma of adolescents not knowing enough to get involved and has al-lowed them to speak out.”

Because many users may only hear one perspective, they can easily be exposed to misinformation, as we have seen with claims of election fraud in 2020. This makes fact-checking essential. But the practice can be exhausting, with the flow of endless information making some, like Baby Cornish, 17, of Frederick, Md., want to “forego social media altogether.”

On Instagram, it’s all about the aesthetic: colors, fonts, and even the song playing in the background of a post. “Insta-gram has molded activism in an aesthetically pleasing type of way,” said Les-lie Nevarez, 18. Nevarez, who is from Brownsville, Texas, says that the actual information is often sec-ondary to eye-catching, bite-sized infographics, which contribute to the rise of performative activ-ism and make the harsh realities of the world seem like trends. “Before I post something on social media I make sure of two things: that it’s kind and informative,” she said. 

What really happens after we post? How can we know if we impacted someone at all? While on-line activism can be an easy starting point, Nevarez feels the real change comes from offline activism. Her city, Brownsville, has been hesitant in accepting the LGBTQ+ community, but it does have an organization that created a pride flag in June 2020 to place on its welcome sign. The flag only lasted a day before someone took it down and replaced it with “no LGBTQ” in spray paint.  This June, those who created the flag protested and organized events to reinstate it. Their efforts were successful and the flag remains on the welcome sign.

“If it hadn’t been for social media and those in-dividuals per-sisting,” Neva-rez said, “we wouldn’t have reached mem-bers of the community to create change.” Social media can also bol-ster local and nat ionw ide movement s , such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. These social justic initiatives have been amplified by social media and have brought about awareness across the country. Online activism has been a valu-able medium for activist organizations, although Nevarez believes that it alone can only accomplish so much.

News reaches members of the younger generation through their Instagram feeds faster than their television screens. With this overflow of information on global, national, and local issues, some social media users feel pressured not only to keep up, but to repost and spread awareness to appear in-formed. 

For teenagers like Kim, the pressure to post on social media is about keeping her audience informed on issues that do not receive extensive news coverage. In March, following the Atlanta spa shootings, Kim said that she was disheartened by the lack of awareness among her followers on social media. Many, she noticed,  glossed over the issue or ignored it alto-gether. During this time, she felt pressure to post. “If I don’t voice my opinion on this,” she recalled thinking, “then who will?” Posting about it online, she said, “has helped me find my voice as an advocate.”

Year After Floyd Death, Police Reform Remains Elusive Goal For Both Sides

By Haja Isha Bah
Philadelphia, Pa.

 “Get off of him! It’s time to get off of him!”  shouted Kevin Lawrence  at the video that played  on his wife’s phone.

It was about 8 pm  in Texas, Lawrence’s  home state. He was in  his gym shorts and a t- shirt watching TV in his bedroom when suddenly  his wife came in, held out her phone in front  of him, and said “watch  this video.” His relaxing  evening would then turn  into one full of rage. The  video showed footage of Minneapolis police  officer Derek Chauvin  kneeling on the neck of  George Floyd until Floyd  died. 

Lawrence was upset  that a man had been  killed, but he also was  disappointed in Chauvin.  As a former police of-ficer, he saw Chauvin’s actions as “a viable con-trol technique taught by most police depart-ments” for moments where an officer needed to gain control of a situ-ation. But Lawrence says Chauvin remained on Floyd for far too long. “There’s a care that po-lice officers have, and it was being ignored in the situation,” he says. “The impression I was getting from the look on that officer’s face was that he just didn’t care, and that’s what bothered me about it.”  

Since 2010, Lawrence has been the executive director of the Texas Mu-nicipal Police Association (TMPA), which provides  legal protection, political lobbying, and training for officers across Texas. TMPA’s mission is “to turn Law enforcement into a true profession,” Lawrence says, “to provide the citizens of Texas with the best possible police services through both education and representation.”

So to see police murder a man without any re-morse was embarrassing to Lawrence. As a former officer and a representative of officers across Texas, he was upset by Chauvin making life more difficult for cops: “900,000 other law enforcement officers across this country, they’re all  gonna be judged based on [his actions].”

One of the main fac-tors that Lawrence be-lieves contributed to Floyd’s death was a lack of training. Lawrence says in Minneapolis, “some officers had been trained one way and other of-ficers whose trainings were outdated and they had not been updated; they had not retrained on new policies.” TMPA reached out to agencies to ensure that training standards were up to date and that all officers were being trained prop-erly on every policy. This would, in Lawrence’s opinion, prevent officers from making the same “mistake” as Chauvin. 

Across the country, on Princeton Universi-ty’s campus in New Jer-sey, Gina Feliz saw the Chauvin video too. Like Lawrence, Feliz was re-laxing in her room, “not really expecting much to come of [her] summer.” Feliz opened social media, expecting more Covid-related news, only to be met with the tragic death of a Black man. Uncomfortable with the idea of sharing footage depicting police brutal-ity, Feliz made the conscious decision to not watch the video.  

Feliz was already in-volved in Students for Prison Education, Abo-lition, and Reform (SPEAR), a student group run through Princeton’s Pace Center for Civic En-gagement. “We activate, agitate, and advocate against the carceral state in all forms,” she says, by engaging in what the group’s website describes as “anti-carceral campus activism, legislative advo-cacy, community educa-tion, and direct engage-ment with currently and formerly incarcerated peers.” 

Unlike Lawrence, Feliz believes simply reform-ing policies and trainings won’t change anything; police brutality will con-tinue as if these reforms never existed. What Law-rence calls solutions, Fel-iz considers “non-reformist reforms.” She points out that more than 1,000 people are killed by po-lice each year, many of them in jurisdictions that have already imple-mented changes like the ones Lawrence describes. “On face value, you think that they might help,” she says. “At the same time, they are restoring legitimacy in the police as a whole because peo-ple see that something’s happening and they ac-cept that things will get better from there.” 

George Floyd’s death affected many lives across the country and shaped many decisions that have changed America in big and small ways. Officers feel compelled to stand up for their colleagues, while activists are pushed towards police abolition. A year after protesters filled the streets, Floyd’s death has only intensified many Americans’ feelings about policing and reform. 

Floyd’s Death Spurs New Era Of Instagram Activism

By Francesca Mirthil and Jorge Espinoza

Everett, Mass. and El Monte, Calif.


Politics. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? Is it suits? Washington D.C.? More than likely, it might be adults. Why? Well, for one, politics used to be something that one had to immerse themselves in, and older people had the ability to easily access and discuss their political viewpoints. If you were a teenager, you had no real way of commu-nicating your opinions. 

But now, with a cell phone, a downloadable app, and a cell tower, teens have access to political conversations.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psy-chiatry reported that 90 per-cent of surveyed teens aged 13-17 have used social me-dia at least once; 51 percent reported using it at least once a day. This means that the majority of teens use social media and that the amount of teen-to-teen in-teractions have multiplied. These interactions vary per site, but Instagram is an app of particular interest. On Instagram, social justice and political advocacy have dominated user feeds. But, that is not what Instagram was designed to be.

So what happened? March 2020. As we transitioned our lives to fit inside four walls, social media was a primary source of communication. That was until the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, which spurred a social justice outcry and major social media move-ment.

“All [of] that takes an effect on you,” said Lay-la Brooks, 16, “especially since we were at home and I was in my room all day playing the same video of Black men getting killed by police officers.”

Floyd’s death caused peo-ple to protest, even in the middle of a pandemic, but not everyone did so physi-cally. Many used their social media platforms to make their voices heard. They began following accounts, resharing posts, and designing their own infographics. Now, a year later, many are reckoning with the effec-tiveness of these actions.

For one, social media advocacy was viewed as passive. On Instagram, users are given the chance to fol-low and be followed. Naturally, a user likely follows and is followed by those who share their opinions. This limits the potential for ideas to be challenged. Info-graphics and other content then become useless, regard-less of the information pres-ent within them. 

Roxana Martínez, 17, does not fully agree with the idea of the social media echo chamber. Martinez es-timates that 40 percent of the material she interacts with includes contrasting ideas.

Another problem with social media activism is “cancel culture.” Teenagers have expressed that they feel an obligation to speak about politics.

“I felt like I had to post something. Everyone was like, ‘you’re not support-ing or you’re not spread-ing information,’” said Marshalee Mclean, 16. Marginalized individuals also feel pressure to speak out about issues corre-lated to their race simply because society demands it. “They’ll start to look at me when we’re talk-ing about immigration rights,” said Yarlin Morales, 16. “It’s almost like, I’m forced to do it or like [it’s] my responsibility.”