By KATE SELTZER
On Thursday morning of last week, students awoke to a new message on the Spirit Rock: in black, seemingly hastingly scrawled writing, “18 school shootings in 2018.”
Previously, the rock displayed an advertisement for a firearm safety and concealed carry permit course sponsored by UMW’s Firearms Club. The new message comes in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
While the 18 school shootings statistic has been widely cited in recent days, Politifact rates it as “mostly false.” The number includes any incident where a gun was fired, intentionally or otherwise, in school or on school property. Of the 18, three qualified as mass shootings. Although the higher number is misleading, it does speak to a higher frequency of school shootings than anywhere else in the world. According to ABC News, the shooting in Parkland is the seventh deadliest in modern US history.
Students shared mixed feelings over the repainting of the rock. Junior Abigail Richardson objected to its graffiti.
“[The shooting] is horrible, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the firearms club,” said Richardson. “So I don’t really understand why we’re crossing it out; we’re trying to fix the problem by letting people know the safety precautions and how to properly use a firearm. It’s not like they’re handing them out on campus walk to kids and saying ‘have fun!’”
Other students, like sophomore Katelyn Colombrito, thought that the graffiti was completely justified.
“I probably would’ve done it myself,” Colombrito joked. “There’s been way too many [shootings] already. It’s only February. Something needs to be done about that.”
Sophomore Lauren Priddy said that “it would’ve been fine if they’d waited 24 hours to paint over it.” She is referring to the generally accepted practice of waiting a full 24 hours before painting over a club’s message.
However, according to SGA Communication Director Matt Good, “the 24-hour rule is just a courtesy one.”
Good also said that in the past “it has worked very well as an honor code type of thing.”
Officer Michael Hall says that what took place “is not a violation of law, because anyone can paint on the rock.” It is unclear what, if any, punishment the student who anonymously painted the rock would face if found.
Students reacted to the broader issues of school shootings and gun control in different ways. Julianne Witwiw and Michelle Holt, a senior and sophomore respectively, expressed an overall desensitization to the violence.
“They happen all the time,” said Witwiw. Holt agreed, saying “We’re not getting the full impact of it like we used to. I don’t think think there’s any real way to feel anymore because it’s become such a common occurrence.”
Holt also said that the painting of a rock reflected a national trend of similar occurrences, and expressed a desire to see President Trump speak on the core issue of gun violence: guns.
“That is essentially what everyone wants him to do,” Holt said. “I think they are making their voices heard in an essence to that point. Because he in his speech this morning only made reference to prayers and mental illness, but he didn’t say anything about the gun control, and I feel like that is the first step [in solving gun violence].”
Freshman Aidan Yektafar articulated his clear frustration at the focus of UMW’s gun violence conversation.
“We’re just pissed off that someone, like, colored the rock,” said Yektafar. “Who gives a [expletive]? They’re not even looking at the big picture here. 17 kids got shot yesterday.”
Yektafar elaborated, saying “There shouldn’t be a day when you’re afraid to go to school.”
Vice President of UMW’s Young Democrats’ Shawnya Patterson says that the club “supports the message [of the statistic] and absolutely agree[s] that it is long overdue for gun control legislation to be a priority in American politics.”
At the time of writing, the rock has since been repainted numerous times. Each time, graffiti has appeared over the new message in what appears to be a bit of a growing trend. While College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty jointly painted the rock to show a message of sympathy for the victims in Parkland, an unauthorized individual added to the message “MAGA 2020.” In a joint statement, CR and YAF said they condemn both the statistic and the “politically-charged messages.”
UMW’s Firearms Club declined to comment for this story.