SPAC's first initiative
Lehigh for Our Lives
Mass shootings are a uniquely American epidemic, with such tragedies occurring more than we can sometimes keep up with. Lehigh students tend to be connected with these tragedies, with some hailing from Chattanooga, TN, where five service members were murdered in a mass shooting, from Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 students and teachers were gunned down, from Southern California and Las Vegas, where 59 people were gunned down at a country music concert. However, countless Lehigh students have sat in their high school classrooms and been forced into lockdown, not knowing if they were potentially the next victim of a mass shooting.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened on two holidays that celebrate love, acceptance, and relationships - Valentine's Day, and Ash Wednesday. Some of the students at Stoneman Douglas still had crosses smeared on their foreheads. When news broke that a shooting had taken place in Parkland, Florida, we walked around campus glued to our phones, keeping a watchful eye for any updates. Students from Parkland took to social media, and for the first time in many of our lives, we could live their fears with them, as videos emerged of gunshots ringing through the school, into classrooms, and of bodies strewn around the floor. This felt different. Survivors were quick to speak to the media, and what followed signaled a significant change in the discourse following a mass shooting: students called out politicians for their NRA sponsorship, called out legislation that allowed the gunman to become armed. These students cut through the traditional "thoughts and prayers" mindset and immediately demanded policy change, and were unafraid to demand a new standard of political response to these types of tragedies.
When it became clear that the students were planning a march in Washington, D.C., three Lehigh students, pictured on the right, became invested in getting their campus community to join them in their nation's capital to rally for sensible gun reform.
The process was limited to a three week period, where everyday was met with agendas and to-do lists spanning pages. An initial 20 page proposal, Lehigh for Our Lives: A Statement of Purpose and Message, was drafted and submitted to the institution's most senior leaders, and the fundraising began.
These students, in two days following their decision to invite the campus community to D.C., had over 100 students sign up to attend. In a little over two weeks, the students had met with the President of their university, fundraised over $10,000, and received confirmation that roughly 150 students were able to take a bus trip to D.C. The students provided breakfast, snacks, and dinner, with the university donating sack lunches for every single student who came on the trip.
On March 20th, four days before the national march, these students organized a Signmaking Party, with guests including Lehigh University's Chief of Police Jason Schiffer, Bethlehem's Chief of Police Mark DiLuzio, PA State Rep Steve Samuelson, Lehigh University President John Simon, LU Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Donald Outing, and others. These guests interacted with and spoke to students as they prepared signs for the march.
They formed a campus club - The Student Political Action Coalition - as a way to streamline their financial accounts; however, it grew into something much greater. With roughly 80 regular members, SPAC at Lehigh is ready to change the way this campus engages with politics.