Episode 4: Heather, Megan and Leonor
How do students build resilience in the aftermath of gun violence?
In this episode we’re looking at resilience, school shootings and activism. We speak to survivors, teachers, neurologists and trauma experts to understand the role that technology, institutions and support groups play in building resilience in the aftermath of tragedies like Columbine and Parkland.
We speak to Heather Martin, a teacher and Columbine survivor, who set up The Rebel’s Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing support to communities that have experienced mass tragedy. We hear from Micere Keels, an assistant professor and director of trauma-responsive educational practices at University of Chicago, and Dr. Judy Willis, a former teacher and neurologist. We also hear the stories of Leonor Munoz, a Parkland survivor, and March for our Lives activist and Megan Hobson, a drive-by shooting survivor and gun safety activist.
As we’ll be talking about some tough topics this week some listener discretion may be advised.
Quotes From the Episode
“The definition of resilience to me…is the ability to persevere through failure, to continue to have a sense of efficacy and self-management and control of one’s future and future possibilities, despite setbacks…” — Dr. Judy Willis
“Resiliency, that word is only beginning to resonate with me within the last probably 2 years… I wasn’t acknowledging that I was being resilient, I was just doing what I had to do every day… you don’t have a choice …as a survivor.” — Megan Hobson
“I don’t want the fight to be the main thing that I do and quite honestly I don’t want to be known as the girl who’s from Parkland, the girl who went through a school shooting. That’s not how I want to define myself.” — Leonor Munoz
“While technology and social media really offer this really awesome platform to connect with people from all around the world, it can also be a hindrance in that you know, that you might be lacking in that human connection” — Heather Martin
“Oftentimes we define resilience at the individual level. However, we can do a lot more as a society, as a community, as a neighbourhood or as a school to make our institutions places where the institution is a resilient institution” — Micere Keels
Heather Martin, Teacher, Columbine survivor and founder of The Rebels Project Dr. Judy Willis, teacher and neurologist Micere Keels, Director Trauma Responsive Educational Practices Project at the University of Chicago Leonor Munoz, Student and Parkland Survivor Megan Hobson, gun violence activist.
This week’s unsung hero is American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt.
- My Life Since the 1999 Columbine Shooting — Heather Martin talks to the Atlantic
- Supporting Students With Chronic Trauma — Micere Keels writes for Edutopia on the subject of trauma
- The Science of Resilience — Dr. Judy Willis shares three simple techniques to help teachers build resilience in their students
- March for our Lives
- Leonor Munoz Audio Diary — Leonor Munoz audio diary documenting her life following the attack for NPR’s WBUR
- National Millennium Time Capsule
- Talking to children about terrorist attacks and school and community shootings in the news — Two-page guidance from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement
- This American Life: Harper High School Part 1 — This American Life spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where gun violence impacts the life of many of their students on a regular basis.
HOST: A cell phone. A computer chip. A CD-Rom with the human genome project. A piece of transoceanic cable.
It was 1999, the eve of a new millennium, and these were a few of the technological artefacts that made it into the “National Millennium Time Capsule.” These representatives of technological advancement were chosen by a special White House committee to join culturally and politically significant objects: everything from a piece of the Berlin Wall to Ray Charles’ sunglasses to Twinkies.
Well, OK, not the Twinkies. They were part of the plan but due to concern that mice would get into the 2 by 4 steel capsule, the Twinkies ended up being removed — and eaten, by some of the committee members.
Anyways, the National Millennium Time Capsule was a White House project by then-president Bill Clinton to preserve the “artefacts, ideas, or accomplishments that represent America at this time in history,” and would be opened in the year 2100.
What will people 100 years later make of these artefacts? It’s funny to think about when, even now, barely twenty years later, it all of feels so … quaint.
HEATHER MARTIN: Laptops were kind of around. Cell phones were kind of like big brick cell phones. They had like a lot of the prepaid ones…Internet was kind of hard to come by. We had AOL, so it’s still dial-up, you still have to wait to connect. And then it was like a nightmare if one of your family members picked up the phone while you were chatting on AOL and then it would disconnect you…you know We had landlines…so you could call and you know, the older brother would answer you, you know, ask to speak with Maggie. And if she wasn’t there then you’d have to go track her down or wherever she was. You couldn’t be texting. Um, we did have pagers, however, I forgot about pagers…
HOST: That’s Heather Martin. In 1999, Martin was a high school senior, just one month away from graduation — and all of the life transitions that would follow: one last summer vacation with the friends she had grown up with, going off to college, and then, “the start of the rest of her life”.
But Martin wasn’t just any graduating senior. She was a senior at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado, and on April 20, 1999, something happened that shaped “the rest of her life.”
Just hearing that name — “Columbine” — most of us know what comes next — or parts of the story, anyway. But for those that aren’t familiar, just a little note before we get started with this episode. We’ll be talking about some tough topics this week — school shootings, gun violence, and the experience that lives on via the Internet — and some listener discretion may be advised.
This is Nevertheless, a podcast about learning in the modern age. Each episode we shine a light on an issue impacting education and speak to the women creating transformative change. Supported by Pearson Education and hosted by me, Leigh Alexander.
HEATHER MARTIN: My name is Heather Martin and I’m a teacher in Aurora, Colorado and I’m also a Columbine survivor.
So the shooting happened on April 20th, it was a Tuesday and I was in choir class and we were trapped in a room for about three hours and we barricaded ourselves in, and there were 60 of us, one cell phone. And then, because it was a teacher’s office that we barricaded ourselves into, there were two landline phones as well. So kind of what that looked like as the three hours unfolded is that my pager was going off like crazy, like people trying to get me to call back, call back, call back.
HOST: The carnage at Columbine started in the morning, at approximately 11:19AM. The attack itself lasted for 52 minutes, though the entire ordeal went on for hours before police cleared the building. By the time that it ended, the two perpetrators — students at the school — had killed 12 of their fellow students and one teacher, and injured 21 others.
HEATHER MARTIN: We were using the landline to try to call 911 and try to call our parents, but the line was busy a lot of times like 911 was busy.
HOST: There had been other school shootings before, but Columbine touched a nerve in the American — and world — consciousness in a different way. This was partly because of the media spectacle around it: it was this nightmare scenario playing out on your television set — all in real time.
HEATHER MARTIN: The way that people were getting information about the shooting was really through the media…the helicopter circling the school…that were taking live footage.
HOST: It was kind of a watershed moment in the American psyche when it came to school safety. It changed how schools approached security, leading to “zero tolerance” policies on threats of violence. It spurred a conversation about bullying and Goth culture, which some blamed as factors driving the shooters, though this theory has since been debunked. And, unfortunately for some Columbine perpetrators became heroes.
HEATHER MARTIN: There are groups of people that, that idolize the Columbine gunman, and it’s like this weird cult, and it’s just growing, I don’t have the exact statistic, but, if I were to sort of average it out, I would say 9 out of 10 mass shooters have cited the Columbine shooters or have referenced them or have at least done their research and have idolized them in some way…
HOST: And, tragically, there have been a lot of other mass shootings since.
In fact, earlier this summer, The Washington Post calculated that since Columbine, over 187,000 students in more than 193 schools around the United States have experienced a school shooting. And expanding the scope of shootings from schools to malls, movie theatres, parks, street corners, and homes, the number of students directly impacted by gun violence goes up even more.
This makes understanding how to support young people in building resilience in the aftermath of a shooting incredibly relevant work and timely to anyone interacting with students.
Now, the concept of “resilience” in education is not new… but it’s typically used in a pretty different context.
DR. JUDY WILLIS: The definition of resilience to me…is the ability to persevere through failure, to continue to have a sense of efficacy and self-management and control of one’s future and future possibilities, despite setbacks…
HOST: That’s Dr. Judy Willis, a teacher turned neurologist and adjunct faculty at the University of California’s Graduate School of Education. She applies neuroscience to teaching and Dr. Willis says that while there are more resources for teachers on developing resilience, and certainly a lot of interest from teachers, a lot of the times, those resources are hard to access.
DR. JUDY WILLIS: Professional development is available for them to learn it, but the problems go back to the funding for schools and the planning of school curriculum and when you’re in teacher education, there’s so much that teachers need to know before they hit the ground.
HOST: Besides, the type of resilience that Dr. Willis is talking about — this ability to make mistakes in stride and continue to learn — is a little different than resilience to serious trauma — like shootings.
MICERE KEELS : Defining resilience I think is very difficult. Oftentimes we define resilience at the individual level. However, we can do a lot more as a society, as a community, as a neighbourhood or as a school to make our institutions places where the institution is a resilient institution that then requires less individual resilience.
HOST: That’s Dr. Micere Keeles. She directs the Trauma Responsive Educational Practices Project at the University of Chicago. The project is changing how schools serving lower-income communities of colour approach trauma. But, with the high-profile school shootings taking place around the country, Keeles has seen an increase in interest in her work.
And one of the most high profile school shootings this year took place at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th.
That’s when a troubled former student got into an Uber with an AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle, went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire. In the six minutes of his rampage, he shot and killed seventeen classmates and teachers, and critically injured seventeen more.
Leonor Munoz was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and she spoke with Nevertheless about her experiences before and after the shooting.
LEONOR MUNOZ: I was always kind of like a normal high school student. I’ll be honest, I never had any school spirit. my school spirit was like lovingly hating my school. You know, like a normal student. Whatever would come on the morning announcements, they’d say like the school motto, I always kind of like say it along kind of mockingly, but it was never out of actual hate it was more like mocking it lovingly. The school motto was Be Positive, be passionate and proud to be an eagle.
Things just changed after February 14th. There’s no way I can, you know, make fun of my school normally, like a normal high school student because, well, everything that’s happened, it would seem disrespectful. It’s just weird for me to imagine a time when I wasn’t scared to go to school. Scared just to exist outside of my home.
HOST: But the shootings don’t always happen in a school context — or at a scale that captures national attention. This was Megan Hobson’s experience. Hobson was 16 years old when she was hit by a stray bullet near her hometown in Miami Gardens, Florida.
MEGAN HOBSON: I was shot in April 18, 2012…in a drive-by shooting … a little before midnight. It took like 10 minutes for my life to change. I was shot in my right hip with a bullet -Two bullets actually — that went through the bumper of the trunk and the back seat before entering my right hip my small intestine severed my nerve and shattered both hip bones, also leaving me with a walking disability which is, I can’t really control some of the things from my knee down on my left leg…. I had four surgeries and I will probably need more surgeries in the future…The bullets never exited.. I still have fragments in my reproductive organs. Will I be able to have kids? I do not know this happened when I was 16. So now I’m a childbearing age. So that’s another question, but I wasn’t thinking about that before.
HOST: Six minutes at Parkland. Ten minutes in Miami Gardens. 49 minutes at Columbine. That’s how long each of the shootings lasted, but these mere minutes changed everything…so that months, years, and even decades later, survivors are still dealing with the aftermath.
MEGAN HOBSON: You have a lot of depressive thoughts, I think following the shooting, a lot of trust issues…
LEONOR MENOZ: Honestly right after it happened…I don’t trust anyone anymore, and except for the people at my school and I didn’t even know half of them. So… at first there are like 3500 people who I trusted and that…was it. Like even my family, it’s hard to tell them about things when they weren’t there and it’s not even their fault.
HEATHER MARTIN: I didn’t really confront anything seriously regarding the shootings until 10 years. So I went out of town every year for the anniversary. I didn’t really talk about it much… I not I tried to talk about it a lot in … I’ll call it the immediate aftermath, but in “survivor world” that’s kind of a long time. Like I would put the immediate aftermath probably about a year.
MEGAN HOBSON: Resiliency, that word only beginning to resonate with me within the last probably 2 years… I wasn’t acknowledging that I was being resilient, I was just doing what I had to do every day… you don’t have a choice …as a survivor. Like you survive not just that night every night from then, so… it’s really not necessarily something that you can take the time to think about.
HOST: In fact, “not thinking about it” was one of the ways that Heather Martin coped with the aftermath of Columbine.
HEATHER MARTIN: The 10-year mark is when I finally had the opportunity to go back to the school because as a senior I graduated and Columbine was a very large and extensive crime scene. So the school was closed down for the rest of the school year. So we went to a neighbouring high school and as seniors, we never had to go back…I was really anxious to go back. But it turns out that that was like one of the best things I ever could’ve done because I will always remember that day and I will always have those…the terrible memories from April 20th, but I have so many more awesome memories from high school and you know, when I walked into that building, instead of… just being focused on the horror of that day, you know, I remembered being in the musical and I remembered, you know, laughing with my friends at lunch and just all the happy memories that flooded with my high school experience.
HOST: In 2012, Martin co-founded The Rebels Project, which was meant to serve as a resource for and by school shooting survivors.
HEATHER MARTIN: So when we started the rebels project 13 years after the shooting, I felt, I felt prepared to talk about it and talk with others.
HOST: However, it was another mass shooting that prompted the project’s start. On July 20, 2012, a man entered a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, set off a tear grenade, and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 70.
HEATHER MARTIN: Aurora, Colorado is about 22–23 miles from Littleton, Colorado, so having another event, comparable to Columbine — in that sense was really difficult for survivors to have to relive that…but this time, you know, it had been 13 years for us, so we were able to have the gift of time to sort of reflect on what we’ve been through and what’s worked for us, what hasn’t worked for us. So we formed it essentially to be someone to listen that did understand and did have an idea of what it was like to go through a traumatic experience on that level and, basically, in the eyes of the world.
HOST: Because it’s not just the horror of experiencing a shooting — likely one of the worst days of your life for anyone that’s been through it — but doing so with everyone watching, judging, thinking that they know what you’ve been through. Nowadays, a lot of that watching, judging, and opinion is instantaneous, thanks to social media.
Back in 1999, though, it was the traditional media that played that role.
HEATHER MARTIN: They were in the bushes, they were camped out on the front lawn of the school. They were outside of my house…they were I mean they were everywhere…There weren’t any boundaries…we couldn’t even grieve without the world watching and the world intruding on our grief. Which is actually one of the big takeaways that I have now, just as I help support other survivors is just that idea that it is different when the world’s watching you grieve and you have to find a way to grieve on your own without that intrusion.
HOST: Everyone handles the grief and recovery process differently.
MEGAN HOBSON: I thought it was interesting that you have peer support groups for families who had just a miscarried or…you have alcohol anonymous as support groups. You have just different for different — um, I’d say like life challenges and things that people are facing. But when it came to gun violence, there really wasn’t that support from survivors that was based to kind of tell you walk you through the day to day of this new normalcy,
HOST: Unable to find what she most needed, Hobson decided to become that resource for others.
MEGAN HOBSON: I just want it to be that real voice of reason in the room. There wasn’t that for me. I feel like I would’ve needed that to be inspirational too. I would have wanted for some of my push in the hospitals to come from people who generally knew what it was that I was going through.
HOST: In activism, Hobson found a new meaning and purpose that helped her move forward.
MEGAN HOBSON: Once you take that as a mission in itself then activism, I think that the resiliency within it becomes a different force you know, but personally, yeah, you have your personal battles mentally, whether you have, what do you feel like doing it today or if you don’t feel like doing it today.
I want to be the voice for the voiceless…I remember I told my mom, there aren’t a lot of them volunteers speaking out. So I just decided with me being here, my second chance of life, I was going to do what was, I guess a life mission to need to make sure that it continues to be a voice and the face of gun violence as and what I, what I represent within this, the demographics of how people view it.
HOST: In the weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many of its survivors began powerful voices in arguing for stronger gun control. Parkland seniors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, in particular, became household names for their outspokenness and eloquence.
Leonor Munoz: We had a two, at least two months of was just straight anger — of being in the anger stage of um, uh, grief. And after that, I started to get a little tired.
You want to get on with your life. I hate that what happened…before this point in time, like I never really wanted to be an activist. I wanted to change things. I want to be part of a movement to change the world, but this isn’t what… I was planning to be a writer, maybe screenwriter and maybe like I want to make great stories and like fiction stories and stuff like that. That’s what I wanted to do. And now I’m sorry, I don’t, I don’t want to keep fighting, keep remembering for the rest of my life. I’m always going to remember, but it’s just so taxing, so tiring. And I do feel guilty for not wanting to pay for the rest of my life, but it also wants to have a life, eventually. And that doesn’t mean that I won’t stop fighting every time there’s a protest. You’ll see me every, every March 24 for the March for Our Lives. I’ll be there every February 14th. Honestly, I’ll probably be crying. I’d probably be back in Parkland and remembering everything with my friends. And every time this happens, every time another school gets shot up, I’ll be at a protest. I’ll be there making my voice heard, but that’s not what I want to do like, as my job.
I don’t want the fight to be the main thing that I do and quite honestly I don’t want to be known as the girl who’s from Parkland, the girl who went through a school shooting. That’s not how I want to define myself.
HOST: Professor Micere Keels, the academic helping to change how inner-city Chicago schools deal with trauma, has also studied the experiences of college students of colour in social justice and activist movements, especially in protesting another type of gun violence, which is police shootings. She explains that activism can be helpful in recovery, but not always.
MICERE KEELES: It moves you out of a passive and it moves you out of possibly taking-a-self-blame space. So you were able to look at what are the societal structures? and then being engaged and being involved in thinking about how do we change those societal structures? However, it is also possible that — depending on how much time, energy, mental space that one engages in activism that it’s also can be a stressor.
HOST: For Munoz, Martin, and Hobson, knowing when to take a step back … and put their own personal well-being has been key.
Leonor Munoz: Now I’m kind of on I hesitate to say hiatus because I am still tweeting out support for the movement. I am appearing at like certain events at the same time — I am a little on hiatus because I do need to prepare for college. I do need to pack up, move out and I’m taking a slight little break right by reading something that I actually like instead of gun laws and the news. I’m rereading the Percy Jackson series because I’ve gotten to the point where I do need to focus on my mental health and if I don’t then I’m going to be in trouble, especially when I go to college. I think that for now is very, very real. And if you don’t, if I don’t learn to deal with my emotions, deal with my trauma now, honestly, I probably never will. And I don’t want to, like, years from now, still have, this raw, undealt with pain.
MEGAN HOBSON: There are two different things because when there’s activists, and in resiliency within activism is you see it in the news and all that stuff and you grow weary because you’re like, why am I working towards this? And still, nothing is happening. Here we are again.
HOST: One of the key lessons for Heather Martin has been that it takes time, that healing is a continuous process, and that however long it takes — it’s OK.
HEATHER MARTIN: This myth of being able to overcome or have closure in the sense of such a traumatic event is not really a thing. You’re never gonna overcome it 100 per cent and you are never going to have that closure and this, the minute that you kind of internalise that and start to believe that and know that then I think your recovery gets a lot easier because you aren’t in judgment of yourself and you’re also not allowing others to judge where you are on the journey.
So maybe a part of resilience is really understanding that and knowing that you can keep going and it does get better and there is hope and there will always be hope.
HOST: March 24, 2018, the day of the March for Our Lives rallies. Over 1.2 million+ people participated in over 800 events around the world to rally in favour of stronger gun laws. Leonor Munoz spoke at March for Our Lives-Boston.
[TAPE FROM MARCH FOR OUR LIVES]
I remember the boots of the SWAT Team. I can still hear them knocking.
I remember the next day, collapsing because I got up and had to remember those that never did. I remember hearing my dad knock on my door the next day and falling apart because I thought that it was happening again. I will always remember every single detail. My trauma isn’t going away and [with sister] neither are we.
And us Parkland kids, we’re not special. I wish we were the only ones to have ever known this, but we’re not. We’re not especially articulate, we’re not super charismatic, and we’re not the first students to be fighting for this. This movement was always there, people were always here, screaming for change.
HOST: Even before the rallies across the world, the movement has had some significant achievements: the Department of Justice banned bump stocks and other accessories that make guns automatic, four states have passed stricter gun laws, big corporations like Delta, United, and Metlife cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and retail stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal-mart have stopped carrying assault rifles.
But while there’s been momentum — and achievements — to be proud of, some activists — especially activists of colour — that have been fighting and rallying for gun control for years have expressed frustration for the narrative that emerged.
MEGAN HOBSON: Every time I turn on the news, I’m hearing about a shooting that took place there…and regardless of hearing about…the school shooting that happened here, you hear about the resiliency of the survivors. You hear about how they’re really keeping up this momentum and making sure that things do change this time around.
But there have been people fighting from way before that have them make that to make sure that even have been reaching out to help them Parkland kids , I think with their campaign and with they’re just, Oh, you know, with their tour and just going out and making sure that their messages are being heard and uniting them with other communities like in Chicago and places like that.
HOST: Not that that frustration prevented her from getting involved. Megan Hobson attended the March For Our Lives rally in Miami, Florida.
But, she said, there were a lot of kids from her neighbourhood that wanted to take part but didn’t have the resources to do so.
MEGAN HOBSON: We tried to get buses, buses into here because there are people that couldn’t make it from these to areas that were on, that was on the news the following week.
HOST: And here’s one of those shootings: on a Sunday afternoon in early April, four high school students were gunned down outside of an apartment building in Liberty Square, Miami. All of them attended nearby Northwestern Senior High School, which had just held a peace march for the shooting death of a two-year-old a week earlier.
MEGAN HOBSON: Kids were from that were asking, Hey, so are people coming now over here to talk to us about that? And they just, you know, they thought that they were a part of it. But it’s so sad to know that you had to explain some of these kids. Like, they’re not going to continue to come over here, because [we] are not that neighbourhood.
HOST: Hobson thinks that it’s a matter of resources.
MEGAN HOBSON: If you gave some of the inner city kids probably the same resources to go out there and spread that message who knows where they could, you know, achieve because they don’t have that opportunity most times…
HOST: That said, she also believes that focusing just on the difference in response misses the big picture, and that’s why she also took part in March for Our Lives.
MEGAN HOBSON: It just goes to show the bottom line that is not the community that is the problem. It’s the guns that are the problem. But regardless, I think it’s safe to say that no one ever wants to be known for this, honestly. So even though … we talk about the lack of attention on one community compared to another, no community wants this kind of acknowledgement, recognition…
HOST: But whether we’re talking about March for Our Lives or earlier movements, social media has played an important part in the experience of gun violence survivors.
LEONOR MUNOZ: If I don’t use social media then quite honestly, me as a teenager, I do not have a voice.
HEATHER MARTIN: I didn’t talk to another survivor of a mass shooting in general until probably Facebook really got up and moving, because how would you connect with them?
MEGAN HOBSON: Whenever I do a community event, I use social media and Instagram for pictures and flyers and videos for promotional purposes.
HOST: One of the most positive roles of social media has been in connecting survivors to each other and building community — on their own terms.
HEATHER MARTIN: I remember some of the survivors from the Jonesboro, Arkansas shooting coming out to Littleton to try to help us afterwards, but we were like, dude, we don’t want to talk to anybody like you need to go away, leave us alone, leave us alone. So social media of gives that opportunity to reach out when you’re ready, like you, don’t have to be on someone’s front door to connect with them.
HOST: Meanwhile, Twitter became a key platform for the March for Our Lives movement to take shape.
But in addition to just organisation, social media — and live-streaming on social media — has also played an important part of citizen media and accountability efforts, especially in cases that, for whatever reason, the news media has not covered. Here’s Megan Hobson:
MEGAN HOBSON: In areas… where the cameras don’t show up, you have kids with their phones who live stream things on Facebook live. And for me, my story was never on the news. There was never any breaking news that there was a girl shot last night in Miami Gardens on April in April 2012 on the date that I was shot on…So for me, I think that it’s important because whether I died or not, somebody by maybe they wouldn’t know my name…
HOST: Or has just not covered well. Heather Martin recalls that in the aftermath of Columbine, the media was in charge of the narrative.
HEATHER MARTIN: The spins could be whatever the media wanted them to be in that case. Like you’re not going like facebook live or doing any kind of live interviews where somebody else is not in charge of your editing or you know, cutting up your interview…I think now you have a little bit more control than we did back then.
HOST: But of course, with all of the benefits of Facebook, Twitter, these platforms have serious costs as well.
Leonor Munoz: Every time I go on social media I can tell my mental health just plummets.
MEGAN HOBSON: There’s self-care and social media…social media is not self-care at all.
HOST: For one, there are the trolls.
LEONOR MUNOZ: People would go into my comments, go to my post from five weeks ago, from, five months ago and start commenting that I’m wrong. That I should have killed myself, that I should have. I could have died there. These trolls will just go through my comments to tell me that it was my fault for somehow bullying the shooter, even though, first of all, he was, he wasn’t bullied, but second of all, I didn’t bully anyone. People are just awful and I know I should ignore the trolls, but when they’re telling you everything that, in terms of survivor’s guilt, when they’re trying to like evoke that, when they’re trying to invoke something that’s already there, it does sting a little.
HEATHER MARTIN: I have learned never to read the comments… it’s awful. The things that people say are terrible and hurtful and lies there. It’s so easy to spread misinformation.
MEGAN HOBSON: I remember I think two years after the shooting, I was on twitter and I said something … about gun laws or something, and someone told me I’d be lynched for infringing on their second amendment or something like that. And… I was so beside myself. I didn’t know what to do, but of course, I reply back to the person, but then I blocked him.
HOST: And then there are the photos, videos, and other voyeuristic details that circulate — and go viral.
HEATHER MARTIN: There are video circulating from inside different shootings so like people are recording it happening and to me I’m just like, that is how could, how could you share that? How could that get out? And people want to watch that. But the other side of me is like, I understand it’s like one of those train wrecks or a car wreck or whatever. Like you drive really slowly as you walk by and you want to see it and you want to experience it because you’ve never been through it. But from a survivor’s perspective, that’s pretty horrifying.
HOST: As part of her work on trauma in marginalised communities, Dr. Keels has been following black and LatinX college students as they move through university and navigate activism, online and off. She provides another perspective on how social media use affects student activists and organisers.
MICERE KEELS: One of those aspects of social media is that you never step away from it … The ever-present nature of, stress, violence, crime, social unrest, discrimination, racism in their social media feeds can be thought of as a retraumatising factor in their life…it triggers memories, it triggers experiences and you never get step away from it.
HOST: So, what does all of this mean for those of us that work with — or are concerned about — building student resilience?
For Heather Martin, who now teaches high school seniors, the response to this question has at least two parts:
HEATHER MARTIN: As an educator… as a survivor…I have three exits out of my classroom. I also have a plan and I have a backup plan and I’ve got the backup plan for the backup plan.
Um, I go to like active shooter training so that I can kind of learn the rationale behind these protocols so that I can take that information and combine it with what I know having gone through it and having experienced it and sort of choose for myself what makes sense.
HOST: But it’s not just about contingency planning. That’s almost the easy part — not that any of this is easy. The harder part: connecting on a human level.
HEATHER MARTIN: I do share my story with my students every year. I’m not going into gory details or anything, but I need them to know that if we do a drill or a lockdown drill…they know to take it seriously and, and I will explain why they should take it seriously.
And it also gives me the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and make myself vulnerable to them. Um, because I think that students today in any school really have, have been traumatised. You know, I, I think it’s something like seven out of 10 students have been had early childhood trauma or something. But it really offers that opportunity for them to be vulnerable with me. And then they will share their experiences with me and, you know, I can offer the appropriate support and you know, get them help or you know, connect them with someone who can help them. Or maybe they just want someone to understand and to listen to something awful that happened to them and they’ve already gotten help. But they can make that personal connection with the teacher and with a person.
HOST: So, ultimately, building resilience — and supporting resilient students — comes down to empathy — and authenticity. Unfortunately, that’s another arena in which tech and the Internet are a mixed bag.
HEATHER MARTIN: While technology and social media really offer this really awesome platform to connect with people from all around the world, it can also be a hindrance in that you know, that you might be lacking in that human connection.
HOST: And that’s one of the many ways that educators and communities can step in: by providing that real, authentic connection. Here’s Leonor Munoz:
LEONOR MUNOZ: For most of my best teachers, I think that the quality that they share, the quality that makes them special is that they, they treat us like people before they treat us, like students. The education we received in Douglas was instrumental to making our movement, I don’t know if you noticed, but, or if anyone else has noticed that most of the students are from Douglas who, uh, went and became like, big voices in activism. Most of them are seniors because in senior year you can take government. Most a lot of people take AP Government…we’ve used what we’ve learned in his class to arm ourselves with the knowledge to make this movement.
When there are those teachers telling us, hey, you’re, you have a voice, you can use it, here is how you can use it, things you really do become very possible.
CREDITS: Nevertheless is a Storythings production — Series Producer is Renay Richardson. Executive Producers are Nathan Martin and Anjali Ramachandran. This episode was produced and written by Eileen Guo. Music and sound design by Jason Oberholtzer and Michael Simonelli, supported byPearson, and presented by me, Leigh Alexander.
This week’s unsung hero is Henrietta Swan Leavitt, American astronomer who discovered the relation between the luminosity and the Cepheid variable stars.