Recently, high school students have been dominating the news cycle.
Following last year’s Parkland High School shooting, teenagers across the country banded together to resist gun violence and advocate change. Thousands upon thousands of young people met in Washington to participate in the March for Our Lives – a movement spearheaded by Parkland students.
Last week, American high school students in Washington made national news for a very different reason.
On January 18, students from Covington Catholic, an all-boys Catholic preparatory school in Covington, Kentucky, attended the March for Life – an annual pro-life, anti-abortion demonstration. The students, who were almost entirely white and sported “Make America Great Again” gear, were shown in a confrontation with Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist.
While Phillips unwaveringly played a ceremonial drum, the boys took videos, laughed, and chanted. One boy, who later identified himself as Nick Sandmann – a junior at Covington Catholic – is shown in a now-viral video smiling at Phillips and resolutely staring him in the face.
A longer video released later put the incident into greater context. The group of boys had reportedly been targets of racially-charged sentiments touted by a group of black men who are members of the Hebrew Israelite movement. Phillips allegedly stepped in between the two groups in an attempt to reduce what appeared to be escalating tensions.
The story, which made headlines and plagued the media for days after the incident, has become an apparent representation of American polarization. While some adamantly argue that the boys’ actions were disrespectful and insulting, others maintain that they are victims of an American news media that is willing to exaggerate and twist stories to fit an anti-Trump agenda.
The division could especially be seen following the release of the second video. Contradictory interpretations and evidence raise the everlasting question as to who and what should be trusted. The incident also brings to attention the dangers of jumping to conclusions. Countless news outlets were faced with correcting what they had immediately assumed to be facts.
At first glance, the students may appear to demonstrate a certain level of condescension. But how can we truly know what their facial expressions indicate? After all, what appears to be a smirk on Nick Sandmann’s face may underlyingly represent sheer discomfort and confusion.
No matter your ultimate judgment – whether the group of students was entirely in the wrong or whether they were responding to a difficult and potentially dangerous situation – the incident is essential to a broader understanding of the division and conflicting moral codes that currently run through the veins of this country – and of the role that high school students play in it.
While most young adults who have made national news in recent years have been supporters of a more liberal agenda, such as those who pioneered the March for Our Lives, the Covington Catholic students characterize a population of American teens that often goes ignored.
At St. Luke’s, we students know this division all too well. On a campus that is comprised of individuals who fall on both sides of the spectrum – and those who stand in the middle – we experience our own degree of polarization. It’s not uncommon for an SLS student to wear a “Make America Great Again” t-shirt on spirit week’s “America Day” – and leftist garb is just as familiar.
Though some of us are more politically involved than others, we can all recognize the divided social landscape that political partisanship seemingly creates on our campus. Nevertheless, our environment is a clear representation of the role of young people in political discussion – and that’s certainly something we should be proud of.
The incident at the Washington Memorial makes clear, however, just how destructive political partisanship can be. It seems as though even adults in our country are willing to forego facts and morality in an attempt to bolster their views and make a mockery of their ideological enemies.
While some of us tend to blame the American media for inflating or skewing certain events to fit an agenda, we can’t ignore that the media is only as powerful as we make it. As consumers, we are at the root of the problem. And as young people, we watch our politicians, our parents, our journalists, and our role models as they continue to feed the fire that is political polarization.
We are a young, politically motivated generation. It is our responsibility to demonstrate that it’s possible to civilly disagree and to show that facts and morality should always prevail.
Imagine that Nick Sandmann were a junior at St. Luke’s. Let’s consider how we would want our community to react. Politics aside, we have an obligation to listen to our peers, uphold facts, and choose respect over division. The adults in our country can’t seem to run away from political destruction.
Let’s vow not to perpetuate the same vicious cycle.