Freshman Robert Shinder grew up five miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were murdered in a mass shooting.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Shinder joined March For Our Lives, a movement that started as a student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control and turned into an organization focused on voting rights. In August, he contacted both the MFOL Boston chapter and school officials at Emerson to organize a panel.
The March For Our Lives panel drew around 100 students and faculty to the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Oct. 30. The five-person panel included MFOL members from the Boston chapter, the Milwaukee chapter, and a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to speak about gun violence in America.
Shinder said the Parkland shooting galvanized him to make a change in America.
“I was politically aware, but never really politically active. This was really the moment that defined me,” he said in an interview with the Beacon.
During summer 2018, Shinder joined MFOL on Road to Change, which took the movement’s members around the country to raise awareness and encourage people to vote in the midterms. Shinder traveled throughout Florida and five other states, taking photos and videos to document the tour.
Shinder said he wanted to host the panel at Emerson to help educate the community.
“A lot of people are not fully educated about this issue,” he said. “People need to know more about gun violence that is not frequently covered by the media and they need to know about how they can help.”
The panelists discussed how different ethnicities and regions are affected by gun violence. They discussed how the national media doesn’t cover gun violence’s impact on people of color in impoverished neighborhoods.
Director of the MFOL Milwaukee chapter, Bria Smith, spoke about her experiences with police brutality and the effects of guns in her neighborhood
“It’s not just about school shootings in white, affluent, suburban neighborhoods. It’s not just about a white man who’s mentally ill going into a school with a gun. It’s about inner-city kids being shot and murdered on the streets every day,” she said during the panel discussion. “I think it’s very important for a movement like [MFOL] to be inclusive and bring every possible perspective to the table.”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Aalayah Eastmond, who participated in the panel, was in one of the classrooms targeted by a shooter on Feb. 14. Six of her classmates were shot and killed. Eastmond only avoided the bullets by hiding underneath the body of her friend Nicholas Dworet.
During the discussion, she said the MFOL movement works toward inclusivity, but still has a long way to go.
“We still need to include people of different races, religions, and regions. We need to talk about domestic violence, police brutality, suicide, and everything else,” she said. “There’s always somebody who wants to share their story, and so it’s so important that there are others reaching out to them and giving them a platform to speak.”
In an interview with the Beacon, Jason Meier, director of student engagement and leadership, said he saw this as an opportunity to encourage students to vote in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. He said barely 11 percent of the student body voted in the 2014 midterm elections.
“Anything we can do to help students actually be civically engaged instead of just saying they’re civically engaged is very important, and Robbie did a fantastic job getting that message across,” Meier said.
Shinder said he wanted this event to inspire people to vote.
“Emerson students are totally politically aware. They know what’s going on in the world but they aren’t incredibly active about it,” he said. “That’s something that needs to be changed.”