WHat we talk about when we talk about guns
In this project, the juniour pods in Cyle's Humanities class sought to answer the question "Does America Have a Gun Problem?" To tackle this massive question, we began by researching different countries with similar socio-economic health to America, analysing the 2nd amendment, and examining all kinds of rhetoric on guns, gun control, and gun violence from every perspective we could. Our final product took the shape of a massive exhibit that we built in our school's Commons, split into seven main sections designed to address different aspects of the main question.
Throughout the project, we strived to make sure every voice was heard and respected, as it is an incredibly controversial and personal topic.
What was your viewpoint regarding firearms, their uses and misuses, and legislation coming in to the project?
Before this semester, I was solidly on the liberal side of the political spectrum. My immediate family is quite liberal (we are from Canada after all), as are the places I've lived in and people I've surrounded myself with for the past four years or so. Donny John was (and still is) my sworn enemy, the annual Climate Change March was (still is) my favourite time of the year, and SNL's Weekend Update was (again, still freaking is) what everyone needs to watch so that we can cure the world. So, even though I wasn't very vocal in that particular sphere, it makes sense that I thought that big guns that can shoot a lot of bullets in a short amount of time were very bad, that it was simple to acquire one, and that psychopaths and really bad hunters did so frequently. Overall, I believed in a lot of general statements, but I didn't have the logic or evidence to back them up.
It was in this past semester, following the Parkland Shooting, that I actually made a conscious effort to become more aware, however. Better late than never, right? When Emma Gonzalez (what a woman, by the way) got up on national television and called out a bunch of incredibly powerful men who had gotten away with too much for too long, I kind of snapped, and it was awesome. While working with a close friend to plan a walkout at Animas on March 14th, I got called out on my lack of knowledge by a few gun-owning peers in the process, so I did a bit of research, and honestly, if someone had asked me the right questions, my knowledge would have crumbled. At the time of the walk out, I knew more than the average student, I think, but it still wasn't enough to really understand what was going on. When Cyle asked whether or not we wanted to switch our focus and talk about guns, my answer was overwhelmingly yes. I might have came into this project self righteous as hell, but at least I was just as fired up.
In what ways was that viewpoint challenged by our class conversations, your research, and the exhibition?
Over the course of the project, I found my viewpoint challenged countless times. In the very beginning of the project, we have several socratic seminars, four corners activities, and class discussions where beliefs I had were challenged by my fellow classmates. Though we had some really good discussions, it was eerie how quickly we could fall into patterns that we had scorned adults for - i.e. everyone sticking to their own personal beliefs and blocking out anything that challenged them as immediately wrong. We got to a point where the tension in class was so high you could see it in the way people interacted, we physically separated ourselves by our beliefs, but we also got over it.
My viewpoint on how America is dealing with the problem is what really changed. I felt that the issue of gun violence and school shootings was insurmountable, especially for high school students. We're at this weird point in our lives where we're passionate about having our own values whilst being reliant on what we've been fed by their family all our lives, and I thought we wouldn't be able to have a real conversation about this problem because of it, but I was wrong. We were able to come together and express frustrations about the majority of the nation and the majority of our class sharing views - "97% of American voters and 97% of gun owners support universal background checks. 67% support a nationwide ban on assault weapons, and 83% support mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases" (source) - and having party lines or liberal/conservative profiling get in the way of our success. What's more, we worked together to create an exhibition product that was bipartisan and based almost entirely on evidence, and a space where we were able to agree and respectfully disagree about what the right way to solve the problem is.
Overall, the beliefs on what should be done about America's gun problem changed a little bit over the course of this project, if only to shift to a place where I can back them up with solid evidence. At their core, however, my beliefs and the values they stem from remain largely unchanged. Sticking to what's important to me is okay though, because I'm more informed, open, and aware than I used to be, and that is what matters.
What adversity did you face during this project and how did you overcome it/make your way through it?
I personally struggled with holding a leadership position over the course of this project. This was odd for me because as someone who has had many prominent leadership roles in class projects for two years now, I had never struggled this much. What essentially happened is that some of my classmates felt that myself and the two other people I was leading this project with were overstepping our roles as project managers and not working enough to justify it. We definitely did not feel that this was the case, as we had been working incredibly hard all hours of the day to put together the bones of an exhibition that would appeal to the entire class with it's chances for individuality, still make sense when it came together, allow for many perspectives, and answer the guiding question, as well as doing our own room. It really affected me personally, as a mad people pleaser, that I had to accept that people didn't like me.
I overcame this by relying on my friends who were going through the same thing, and as a group we decided to reach out to Cyle, who in turn reached out to Libby. After a fantastic conversation with them about leadership and sexism and many of life's difficulties, natures, and truths, we decided to embrace that some people didn't like us and that it was okay. Furthermore, we did have to trust people, even the ones who didn't like us, with the "skeleton" we had created, because there is only so much we can do on our own. What I actually learned from this experience in terms of a "lesson" is very hard to summarise and even describe, but it was an incredibly important lesson to learn, and one that's going to stick with me for a very long time. It proved to me that I have what it takes to be a woman in a tough leadership role, and practice will only improve my capabilities.
In what ways did you contribute to your group and the class as a whole?
In my group, I think I was particularly helpful in putting together a plan and conceptualising the message of our room as it's own unit, and in the context of the whole exhibition. This being said, our room hardly turned out how we thought it would due to classic exhibition complications, but the message remained - message being, if you don't speak up, no one's going to hear you. Physically, I helped with researching the different organisations, and making the sign wall.
In terms of the class as a whole, I'd like to think that I served the same purpose - giving a sense of direction, putting together a plan, and conceptualising the message. This gave me a good sense of what the actual exhibition was going to look like and how it was going to come together. So, when it came to exhibition crunch time, I had a knack for seeing what needed to be done and getting people to do it. I was one of the main people that peers came to when they needed something solved or verified, and I was glad and honoured to fill that role.
What can you point to in the exhibition that is yours (e.g. something you made, researched, etc.)
While I'd like to think that I can claim a little bit from the whole exhibition, since I had a fairly significant role in creating the "skeleton" for it, along with Grace and Ava of course, I can take some serious ownership over the sign wall in the activism room. Actually using power tools to build some of it (read: I used a driver once and let Grace and Ethan do the rest of the power tool-ing) aside, I had a lot of fun making it.
What's more, it was a good metaphor for how the project went. For starters, we planned it out several times, and changed it, and changed it again. Then, we were going to entrust it to some other people, but then we changed our minds. When we didn't have enough time to work on it in class, several people came over to my house and we had a sign making party, choosing our favourite signs of Pinterest and using glitter glue like nobody's business, while watching Disney musicals all night. We stayed for hours after school installing it, and when we finally had to leave because the building was being locked up, we went to a park and ate ice cream and talked about the project some more.
With Justice for All
Click here to see the article about our event published in the Durango Herald.
"A society regulated by a public sense of justice is inherently stable"
- John Rawls
We began this project by studying the concept of justice through several moral and political philosophies of justice, such as Deontology, Utilitarianism, John Rawl's Justice as Fairness, and Libertarianism, and by reading "Justice" by Michael Sander, a professor of government at Harvard University. We also studied Martin Luther King Jr's take on just vs. unjust laws, that "one has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." After developing a solid base on what justice is and what some think it should look like, we researched potential injustices in the Durango community - environmental issues, immigration, teen suicide, and more - before we settled on homelessness. After more researching into the general areas affecting homelessness in the United States - governmental aid, education, substance abuse, etc - we did some research into homelessness in the Durango community. Guest speakers from Axis Health, Food Not Bombs, City Council, and Veteran Homestead Project, as well as Donna Mae and County Commissioner Julie Westendorff came to our school to teach us more about the issue as it pertains to Durango. We also visited the Test Tracks Community with Ed Aber from the Sheriff's Department, and talked to the Camp Host, Tom. Once we had researched the topic as thoroughly as we could, we began planning our product by defining the problem being addressed and the goal of the product. We settled on a community event featuring several community organisations, student projects, and a community meal to "change people's perceptions and raise awareness of homelessness in the Durango community to promote more compassion and understanding," with every piece of the event and projects being displayed there created to achieve this goal.
The event was designed around three key parts - guest speakers, student projects and community organisations, and a meal. The event itinerary went in that order, too - a welcome speech made by a student, two speeches from guest speakers Julie Westendorff and Jennifer Turner, then an hour where visitors could wander between student projects and booths of organisations working to end homelessness in the community, followed by a forty-five minute meal. It was held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, which was chosen for its location in the centre of town, and that as students, we were not charged for the use of the space. Nearly 200 people showed up to the event - parents, teachers, community members, and people experiencing homelessness alike. One of the most striking things I heard over the course of this project was that people experiencing homelessness often felt invisible and isolated from society, which was just as, if not more, destructive as not having a roof over their head. When people refused to meet their eye on the street and instead hurried past awkwardly, or just judged them for maybe having dirt on their clothes or skin, they were seen as "homeless" instead of "people experiencing homelessness." As a society, we forget too often that homelessness is a circumstance, not an identity. It was with this in mind that I sat at the side of the meal area for a moment and watched all of these people eating together and engaging in meaningful dialogue, and knew we had succeeded at our goal.
Even though the event went splendidly, planning it was still a struggle. I pushed myself by volunteering for a leadership position as one of four Project Managers that oversaw the whole process. My job ranged from coordinating different groups within the Event Planning Committee, to creating the layout and itinerary of the event, to editing emails that the Outreach and Food groups were sending out into the community. This was challenging for me because I struggle when things don't go to plan, or even worse, when there is no plan. As our group had the most sporadic and all-encompassing roles, it was impossible to create an accurate plan that wasn't subject to change. I found myself helping out the different groups frequently, such as when Marketing needed people to hang up posters, editing projects that were going to be featured in the event, and completing tasks that we'd only just invented, like taking stock of what each group producing a project needed to display their project well. This environment forced me to give up some control, which while difficult, was a very positive experience because I learned to trust my classmates a lot more. That being said, I also learned which ones I needed to pester, but that's a good thing to know as well. I found myself falling short in this role when I had to do something that challenged my social anxiety even the slightest bit. Sometimes I was able to overcome it, like in collecting the names and supplies needed for projects from the other pod and leading Event Planning Committee meetings (you would think that I wouldn't be anxious talking to people that I had known in varying levels of closeness for three years, but alas not). Sometimes I wasn't, like we needed to place posters around town - I was glad to put them in my own neighbourhood for example, but I gladly let Marketing take care of asking the business downtown if we could put the posters on their message boards. Even so, this is what made my group member Alan and I such an effective team - he was a lot better and handling social situations outside of our pod and planning committee, and I was capable of handling them within it.
This project furthered my personal growth and development in that it made me question what I think I know. The first part of this project made me re-examine my personal philosophies, and I found that I believed strongly in John Rawls's views. He believed that "the principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance," meaning that a just society should create its laws by donning the "Veil of Ignorance," a veil that hides the lawmakers' identity from themselves so they can make the fairest possibly laws. This philosophy made me think deeply about my social and political views, which are by in large aligned with this philosophy, even if I could not explain them before this project. I like to know that I can articulate what I believe and why with substantial reasoning and research to back me up. The latter part of this project brought something I did not spend a lot of time thinking about to the forefront of my mind. I'd be the first to admit that I have awkwardly skirted around many people experiencing homelessness over the course of my life, but this project changed the way I think about homelessness and my previous actions towards the homeless completely. While I felt pity for their situation, I believed negative stereotypes that had been built around them. I'd like to think that at least in the Durango community, I have helped to bring some of those stereotypes down. This made me a better student and member of society, because it forced critical thinking and self awareness. Without what I believe being questioned, I would never know if it was worth believing in. Without the change and challenge and struggle that this project brought, be it "are you sure we should put that group next to that other group" or talking to people I don't know well, or doing activities that dispelled stereotypes and negative connotations, I might not have developed the skills that make me a better leader. More than anything, this project made me wonder "what are other things don't I understand or don't want to understand that I really should?