Student political groups, medical students respond to recent gun violence

Alexander Jaramillo Burgos, one of the co-leaders of CIVIC, leads a discussion on gun control in one of CIVIC's weekly meetings in Eaton Hall on March 5. Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. witnessed a mass shooting on Feb. 14 that left 17 victims dead. According to The Guardian, the loss of these victims makes the shooting among the deadliest school massacres in the United States. This sparked a variety of reactions from the Tufts community in the weeks following the shooting.

Cooperation and Innovation in Citizenship (CIVIC) is one of a number of political groups on the Medford/Somerville campus that held meetings discussing the problem of gun violence. Senior Alexander Jaramillo Burgos, co-leader of Tufts CIVICspoke to the momentum he sees building behind the issue of gun rights.

“I think there’s definitely leadership from the Parkland students and nationwide,” he said. “I imagine that Tufts students might be a part of the bigger picture. There are conversations post-meetings and cross-pollination between groups on campus about donating to this organization or going to that march. There’s definitely interest.”

The reactions from other groups on campus reflect the marked impact that the mass shooting in Parkland has had on the issue of gun violence. Junior Jaya Khetarpal, political director for Tufts Democrats, spoke about the change that she has observed in past discussions about gun violence compared to the reaction to more recent events.

“I think it’s because of the people who were targeted by this particular shooting. These are high school students who can do something about it and have their voices heard,” she said. “Many of them are making sure that this will not happen again. I think it’s our current political environment. I think the frustration is being used to create a movement, and gun control is a good issue for students to focus on because it impacts everyone. It’s something that the government has the ability to do something about.”

According to Khetarpal, Tufts Democrats and Tufts Progressive Alliance plan to hold a walkout and rally in conjunction with a national movement. The walkout will be 17 minutes long, in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. Initially planned for March 14, the walkout at Tufts has since been postponed due to the snow and will likely be on April 20.

Khetarpal hopes that the rally will feature students’ personal stories and capture what students would like to discuss.

“Our hope is to get people to come out to show support, sign our petition that has demands we’re asking from the federal government and to show those that were there that we’re here for you and that we won’t stop fighting until this is done,” she said.

Beyond the rally, Khetarpal noted that the reaction to the Parkland school shooting will extend to guide future Tufts Democrats meetings.

“We’re planning on having a conversation about what our club thinks they should do and having a speaker come,” she said. “We’re hoping to have some bipartisan discussion on this issue.”

Sophomore George Behrakis, president of  Tufts Republicans, agreed on the necessity of bipartisan discussion on the issue of gun violence. In addition to a statement released on Facebook, Tufts Republicans also discussed gun control laws with Dan Shores, a Republican candidate for Attorney General of Massachusetts.

“For us, it’s about discussing things that can be done,” Behrakis said, “It’s about figuring out how we, as the party in power in Washington, can prevent this from happening again. There are things that can be done on the national level that people can agree on.”

Behrakis noted that the diversity in opinion within the club has informed its reaction to the shooting and issues surrounding gun violence. He believed this to be a strength as the club continues to discuss how to move forward as a community and as a nation.

“There’s a lot of diversity of opinion. There are some members who have never shot a gun so are more reserved, and there are those from states like New Hampshire, where it’s more common,” he said. “It’s a good thing and it forces us to come up with solutions to problems.”

Behrakis, like Jaramillo Burgos and Khetarpal, is hopeful about the momentum demonstrated behind the reactions to the Parkland shooting.

“The solution is calibrated in different communities, and people are meeting with their school boards and police departments and demanding something be done. It’s a conversation that absolutely needs to be had,” he said.

Beyond the Medford/Somerville campus, students at the School of Medicine have also mobilized in a showing of solidarity by holding a rally just a week after the Parkland shooting, organized by second-year medical student Teron Nezwek. Nezwek, an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke about the idea for the rally.

“The idea started when [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] alumni across a handful of medical schools decided to show a stance in solidarity in a #WhiteCoatsAgainstGunViolence movement where each school would take a photo dressed in their white coats,” Nezwek told the Daily in an email. “Caitlin Fai, the M20 class president, helped share news of the event across all medical classes at Tufts.”

Nezwek felt compelled to take a stand against gun violence as a medical professional.

“The call to action against gun violence has been long overdue in the medical community,” he said, “When I reached out to Dean [for Student Affairs Amy] Kuhlik about organizing an event to commemorate this tragedy, it soon became clear Tufts wanted more than mourning. We needed a call to awareness: gun violence is a public health issue.”

According to Nezwek, the students, faculty and staff who came out to the rally were further inspired by the goal of raising awareness within the medical community.

“Health care providers should be cognizant of their responsibility to address gun violence,” he said.

Nezwek explained that the next steps for the members of the Tufts community at the Boston Health Sciences campus include having a formal discussion with experts that can improve their understanding of how they might effect change at the legislative level.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the rescheduled walkout and rally planned by Tufts Democrats and Tufts Progressive Alliance.